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Rev. Leslie Westbrook

Celebrating Love and Commitment

Offered by Rev. Leslie Westbrook
Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church, Bethesda, MD
July 20, 2003

I officiated at my first lesbian “Celebration of Love” in 1973. After performing the ceremony, I registered the religious event in the records of the church I served with the required documentation: the date, the place, the couples’ full names, and myself as the officiating minister. I had no idea my actions would be seen as controversial.

Today, as our nation debates whether gays and lesbians should have the right to marry, I think back to over thirty years ago when two women asked me, because I was a Unitarian Universalist minister, to bless their union.

It was September of 1973. The couple were in their early thirties. They sat holding hands. One woman was wearing jeans and a denim jacket. Her cropped blonde hair feathered softly around a petite heart-shaped face unadorned by cosmetics. There was a no-nonsense appearance about the way she carried herself. She was from the working class, from Irish South Boston.

Her partner, who had medium length dark hair, was in a traditional summer dress. Pastel hues captured and emphasized her gentle appearance. Both women’s quiet reserve permeated the room.

While they both seemed shy, the woman in the jeans took the lead. First, she formally thanked me for meeting with them and then she told me that she and her partner wanted a wedding ceremony. As I asked them questions, they each, in their own very different ways, spoke of how much they loved one another and wanted to be with each other. They spoke of a felt need to tell the world of their love. The woman in the jeans spoke the most. Her speech was intense, direct. She looked me straight in the eyes as she spoke. I liked her. I liked her partner. I liked the way these two women were with each other. I said I certainly would perform the ceremony they requested.

I had just begun my first month as Assistant Minister at Arlington Street Church, in Boston. I was twenty-seven, naive, idealistic, hopeful, a woman in what was still a man’s world, trying to learn how to be a minister. I had been drawn to the church I served because of what the Senior Minister preached… respect and equality for all people.

I had never performed a wedding, nor taken a course in theological school about how to develop a wedding ceremony for a couple. A child of the 60’s, I was a product of the women’s liberation movement. The Senior Minister, approached first to perform the ceremony, gave me a private tutorial. What he taught me are still guiding principles when I work with any couple.

The evening I met with the couple, I sat in an office under a large portrait of William Ellery Channing, the father of our religious movement. Channing’s sermon on the occasion of the ordination of Jared Sparks at First Church in Baltimore laid out the Unitarian theology of a unitary, not a trinitary, God. Later, Channing had spoken out against slavery, declaring that all human beings were of one species. Our modern rendition of Channing’s ideas are that whether we are white or black, rich or poor, gay or straight or bisexual or transgender, the human blood and desire that courses through our veins is basically the same. I thought it was appropriate that I and those two women sat under Channing’s portrait.

Marriage invariably stirs strong emotions in most of us — no matter whether we are gay, straight, bisexual, or transgender. We may have thoughts and feelings about our parents’ marriages, the relationships of others we have loved, perhaps of our own past marriages and unions. We may remember painful disappointments, as well as moments of feeling uplifted. Our emotions may run the entire gamut from desire to disgust, from fear to longing, from confusion or ambivalence to absolute clarity of feeling.
Not everyone wants a committed, on-going, monogamous relationship. Many people, however, do. They want an intimate, sexual, companionate relationship that they can count on over the long haul. As in the heterosexual world, the nature of those relationships and the details of the sexual, emotional, financial, social and familial relationships are as varied as are the people who create them.

When a couple comes to me because they want a public celebration of their love and commitment, I help them design a service that will reflect their understanding of the love and affection they feel for one another. I help them design a service that will express their hopes and promises for their future together. I help them think about and acknowledge the limits of their relationship, i.e. under what conditions they would leave the other person. What is it that is critically important to the maintenance and sustenance of their relationship? What would seriously threaten its continuance?

The elements of a Celebration of Love or Gay Wedding are usually simple but full of intense feeling and yearning.

I remember the Opening Words of another Celebration of Love I performed in a garden in Concord, Massachusetts in May of 1981. The words were composed from what the couple told me and what they wrote about their relationship. Imagine that garden, green in the New England spring, sprinkled with the bright flowers that come after a long winter. This time, the wedding was in the backyard of a home in a well-heeled residential neighborhood. Imagine a clear sky, no traffic noise, a slight chill in the air. The Opening Words spoke of what the women valued and cherished, their hopes for the future, their promises to one another. At their suggestion, I said:

“We are here today at Ann and Linda’s home because Ann and Linda love each other. We have been called together as witnesses to the happiness which they have found together and to the pledge which they will now make, each to the other, for the mutual service of their common life.

“We rejoice with them that out of all the world they have found each other, and that they will henceforth find the deeper meaning and richness of life in sharing with each other.

“This ceremony brings with it no guarantee. Ann and Linda must deliberately intend, in every coming day, to be married to one another, without regard to the ebb and flow of feelings, without regard to the joys and sorrows of life, without regard to the gifts and denials of circumstance.

“Ann and Linda each come to this union with a unique background that has made her who she is. From this they will make their own history, each one knowledgeable and thankful for what went before in the life of the other.”

Like every other wedding at which I have officiated, I declared that the purpose of the gathering was to witness the exchange of marriage vows in which two people commit themselves to a relationship of love, caring and support.

I told the gathered assembly that we stood with this couple in a profound moment in time and we were honored to be with them.

I declared that the couple pledging themselves to one another needed us, their family and friends, to recognize, to support, and to celebrate with them as they began their life together. In fact, I said that the ideals, the understanding, and the mutual respect which they brought to their relationship had their roots in the love, friendship, guidance, and shared experience that we had provided them.

And I spoke of how each woman came from a different family, with different cultural and religious values and different life experiences. Their relationship would be as unique as the two people who formed it.

There were readings of poetry and prose that expressed Ann and Linda’s understanding of love and marriage. Then came the most important part of the ceremony. I asked the couple, “Have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?” When they responded affirmatively, I invited them to exchange their wedding vows. Ann spontaneously declared her love, with no written text. Linda, being more organized and formal, vowed her love and commitment with the following words. She said:

“In admiration and trust, I say these true things to you, Ann. I promise to share myself gladly with you, wholeheartedly and without reservation, never to allow any other relation to come before ours. I will seek you out in times of my need and comfort you in yours. You are my best friend and only lover. I will love, respect, and care for you through good times and bad, as long as we both shall live.”

The couple exchanged rings, and I declared that they were loving and committed partners from that day forth. The couple kissed, and the assembly laughed with pleasure and clapped.

All of the elements of an adult love relationship were incorporated into the ceremony.

As described in The Psychology of Love by Robert J. Sternberg and Michael L. Barness, an adult love relationship typically includes passion, intimacy, and commitment (p.142).

First, PASSION. These two women were sexual partners. As with any other couple, the details of the ways they expressed their love, affection and sexual desire were known only to them. They were, however, saying in front of their family and friends that this part of their lives together was satisfying and they both consented to it.

Second, INTIMACY. Intimacy includes a feeling of closeness and human warmth. Each woman expressed high regard for her partner. They received and gave one another emotional support, and they felt loved, appreciated, understood and similar to one another.

Finally, COMMITMENT. In front of family and friends, these two women said they would do all they could to maintain the love that they felt for one another.

The issue of gay marriage is now in the national spotlight. Some legal authorities have taken the risk and granted civil sanction to gay unions. I invite you to support those efforts as Unitarian Universalists by speaking out about your religious views on gay marriage, by being involved in lawful assembly, by lobbying your legislators on behalf of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

I close this morning with the wedding benediction I have used since 1973. I do not know the author of these beautiful words. I have altered the strictly heterosexual references, so that the poem refers to all loving couples. I say:

I wish for you now, and in the years ahead, these three things.

Love in your lives that makes you better people, that continues to give you joy and zest for living, that provides you with energy to face the responsibilities and challenges of life.

A sense of home, with whomever you choose to make up your family, a home that can stand as a symbol of people living together in love, honesty and equality.

And finally, the capacity to say to those you love, when you come to the end of your lives, ‘Because you have loved me, my faith in myself has grown; and because I have seen the good in you, my faith in all humanity has deepened.’

Amen.

Confronting Our Prejudice

A sermon offered by Rev. Roger Fritts
Unitarian Universalist Church of Lexington, Kentucky
November 4, 1979

One Monday evening in 1955 three men in Boise, were arrested and accused of seducing two young boys. The local newspaper, the Idaho Daily Statesman, carried the story the next day, with reports of “lewd and lascivious conduct” and “infamous crimes against nature.” The fact that the “young boys” were physically mature male hustlers ages 15 and 17 was not included in the reports. In the next few days, the Statesman published a series of editorials with such titles as “Crush the Monster” and “This Mess Must be Removed.”

The Police Department announced that a thorough investigation was under way and that further arrests were imminent. In the mean¬time, the prosecuting attorney and the courts were moving fast. One of the first 3 men who had been arrested was promised leniency if he would plead guilty. He agreed to do so, and 9 days after the arrest he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

4 days after the first 3 arrests, a prominent banker was arrested as a member of what was called a “homosexual ring,” It might have looked less like a “ring” if the public had been told that the banker had never met the other 3 men, and that the only “ravaged children” involved were the same 2 rough, grown-up kids. But these facts were carefully withheld both by the police and the district attorney. The big news on the surface was that the banker (a family man, with a well brought-up son of his own) admitted his homosexual interest and stated that he had had contact with the boys.

Because the sworn statements of the young hustlers sounded nothing at all like those of some innocent kids, the statements were extensively “doctored” by the authorities to make them read more convincingly in court.

The police continued their search and actually did manage to arrest a dozen people, but only by spreading their net to include relations between consenting adults, a fact nobody seemed to notice amid all the talk of lewd and lascivious conduct with “our youth.”

To make matters worse, Time magazine reported that the city had… “Sheltered a widespread homosexual underworld that involved some of Boise’s most prominent men and had preyed on hundreds of teenage boys for the past decade.” The article went on to say that in recent investigations the “police talked with 125 youths who had been involved.”

The 50,000 residents of Boise, having been primed by their own press, and now reading all this in a national magazine, were brought to a state of near hysteria. Never before had people “known” that so many were involved, and that neither men nor boys were to be trusted.

The police instituted a curfew on all youths below the age of 17. Men were embarrassed to meet in pairs, or to attend their clubs without their wives. Friday night poker games were discontinued until somebody thought of arranging for at least one woman to be present. It became out of the question for a man to pause to watch football practice for fear of looking as if he were “interested in” the boys.

As happens in all witch-hunts, the hysteria in Boise subsided almost as quickly as it began. But even though the hubbub died down, the myths about what had happened continued to grow. 10 years after the event, a Newsweek reporter visited Boise and was assured that at the height of the scandal, “Millionaires from all over America, indeed from all over the world, were flying into Boise because only there could they select fresh young boys for their favors… and, in fact, there was so much homosexual traffic into Boise that United Airlines had to put special flights into operation during the busy season — the summer.”

There is a widespread conviction among people in this country that homosexuality is a sickness, a form of mental illness, perhaps even a sin. The story of the events in Boise illustrates how this conviction can easily turn into blind fear and paranoid hysteria. With the distance of space and time, the Boise events are amusing — but in our laughter we should not forget the widespread anguish and pain that such witch-hunts cause.

Dr. Alfred Kinsey in the 1940’s and 50’s surveyed the American population and found that 37% of males and 20% of females had at least one adult sexual experience with a person of the same sex. Applying Kinsey’s sample to us this morning, it means that about 20 of us here today have had a homosexual experience as an adult.

Kinsey also found that at least 10% of the persons he surveyed were predominantly homosexual. Meaning that about 7 of us here this morning are predominantly homosexual.

The same likelihood of one in ten would be true for any 10 men or women we customarily deal with in our daily life — doctors, dentists, accountants, lawyers, secretaries, teachers, city-council members, police officers and sales clerks. All of us know people who are gay even though most of us don’t know that they are gay. So it is important to keep in mind when it is said that homosexuality is a form of mental illness, that we are not talking about a few hair-dressers, or a few men hanging around public washrooms; we are talking about 20 million men and women: soldiers, senators, poets and plumbers, mailmen and ministers. Gay people are everywhere. If we base our actions on the premise that homosexuals are sick, we encourage discrimination against millions of people. Gay people are unable to find j0bs, unable to find homes; they are forced to lead lives of secrecy and deception. Before we promote such oppression and suffering for so many people, we better be damn sure we know what we’re talking about.

In fact, there is no evidence that homosexuals are sick or mentally ill:

  • It is not true that there are more homosexuals in mental hospitals than heterosexuals.
  • It is not true that there are more homosexual alcoholics than heterosexual alcoholics
  • It is not true that homosexuals commit more crimes than heterosexuals – in proportion to their numbers, gay people commit far fewer crimes than heterosexuals.
  • It is not true that homosexuals molest children; in proportion to their numbers, gay people commit far fewer sex crimes than heterosexuals.

The most conclusive study of the matter (though there have been a number of others) was made in 1957 by Dr. Evelyn Hooker, a psychologist at UCLA. She found 30 homosexual men who were not in therapy, but rather appeared to be fairly well -integrated into society. She then found 30 similar heterosexual men who matched the first group in age, education, and I.Q.

Dr. Hooker tested the whole group of 60 with a battery of accepted psychological tests, and added a substantial amount of biographical information on each individual. The one point of information she did not include was whether the men were homo¬sexual or heterosexual in their orientation.

She then submitted all 60 of the case records to several of her colleagues for analysis, and found that they were unable to distinguish between the two groups. There was no evidence that the homosexuals were any more (or less) mentally ill than the heterosexuals. She concluded that there simply is no necessary connection “between homosexuality and mental illness.”

In spite of this evidence, there is a tendency in our society to perpetuate the myth that gay people are ill. For example, a few years ago CBS television decided to produce a major documentary on homosexuality. Thanks to various social changes and a genuine increase in public frankness, it seemed possible by 1957 to turn out a candid, interesting program on the subject. Young, talented producers were assigned to the task, and the whole project seemed well-motivated.

In an effort to give an inside view, 5 homosexual men were interviewed on camera with questions designed to show how their lives looked to them. The producers chose individuals with different perspectives. Two were quite disturbed people, a third man would present a mixed picture, and two others would reflect a certain healthy cheerfulness. The blend was supposed to give the report balance.

In the preliminary editings, however, the two disturbed persons seemed to have little impact; the healthy persons seemed to greatly outweigh them. A new balance was struck by editing the mixed case in such a way as to make it decidedly disturbed. This individual later threatened to sue the network for misrepresenting him — but did not actually do so.

The producers now felt that they had a good documentary, with the two healthy individuals being balanced by 3 clearly disturbed persons. They especially felt good about one of the healthy individuals, who had a fresh, handsome, all-American-boy image.

When the documentary was previewed by the executives at CBS it was decided that it was still too supportive. It was felt that this particular young man happened to have such a strong clean exuberance, that his whole bearing seemed to recommend his style of life. It was feared that this might bring charges that the documentary was for homosexuality. Therefore, the producers were told to fix the interview. At crucial points they cut the sound track into separate words and phrases, and by re-arranging these they managed to change the man’s sentences and the essence of what he was saying.

The program was broadcast only once, for when the young man saw what they had done to him, and heard himself say completely unfamiliar things , he entered a formal complaint against CBS, citing fraud, withdrawing his release, and thus freezing all re-runs. It is because of manipulative distortions like this that our prejudice against gays is perpetuated. Unbiased views are hard to arrive at in the first place, and are virtually impossible to express with safety when they are out of line with prevailing social attitudes.

It seems to me, however, that there is a way to break free of the fears society encourages us to have with regard to homosexuality. I have discovered repeatedly that it is next to impossible to fear someone you know in depth, from within as it were. When we really know what their experience has been, what they see and have seen, what they fear and hope and wish for, how life looks to them, you are likely to feel tenderness, warmth for them, to love them, to care about their well-being.

All over America more and more gay men and women are coming forward. They are taking the risk of being honest. They are losing their jobs and homes, they are being shunned and ridiculed, they are being attacked and murdered. But slowly they are overcoming a prejudice that goes back through 2,000 years of human history.

This opening up is also taking place in the Unitarian Universalist ministry. There have, of course, been homosexual Universalist and Unitarian ministers for 150 years. But now for the first time a few gay men and women are being open about their sexuality when they interview for positions.

So far the results have not been good. Unitarian Universalists opened their churches to Indians in the 17th century, opened their churches to Blacks in the 19th century, and ordained the first woman minister over 100 years ago. But no openly homosexual man or woman has yet been called to serve as the permanent minister in a Unitarian Universalist Church.

Now it happens that I have a personal interest in this. Although I myself am a confirmed heterosexual, one of my close friends is openly gay. He and I shared an apartment for two years when we were both preparing for the ministry at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley.

For the past 20 months he has received rejection letters from church after church. Here is an example from a city of 2 million located in the northeast United States. A member of the pulpit committee writes:

“I want to express my personal regrets regarding our committee’s decision not to call you. The truth of the matter is that I do not think our membership could handle you. In my opinion you would be a cause for concern among the membership who would find it difficult to understand let alone accept your views. I wanted to send you this personally because I think you are far and away the best of the lot. I have great personal concern that you get settled into the ministry.”

While waiting for a church to call him, my friend has worked as a bank teller, and is currently serving in a temporary position as assistant minister at the Unitarian Church in San Francisco. His name by the way is Mark Belletini. Some of you met him a year and a half ago when he spoke at my ordination here in Lexington. We risk losing many capable young men and women like Mark to other ministries and other churches if we refuse to accept them as they are. This church, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lexington, does not have a very good record with regard to supporting homosexuals. A few years ago the Board of Directors voted 10 to 2 to refuse to allow a gay group at the University to hold a dance at the church.

Because I am on a limited 5-year contract, it is likely that sometime in the next two years this church will become involved in a search for a new minister. Some of the persons who apply for this position will undoubtedly be openly gay. Then the question I ask this morning will no longer be hypothetical.
I hope when you are all faced with this question again, you will remember this passage, written by another Unitarian Universalist minister, David Rankin, and contained in a sermon that can be found in our pamphlet rack. He wrote:

“We might be able to combat our prejudice against homosexuality by putting sex in its proper perspective. I like sex. I think sex is good, wonderful, productive, interesting – but I believe in our society, we have given sexuality a prominence and important that it really doesn’t deserve.
I think self-esteem is more important…
I think love is more important…
I think survival is more important…”

Yet if a visitor came from outer space and looked upon the United States of America, surely he would think that the most important element in our lives is sexuality.

Gore Vidal was right in his novel Myra Breckinridge, when he wrote: “We have allowed our genitals to define who and what we are. When we look upon individuals only in terms of their sexuality, we don’t see them in their fullness and in their completeness as human beings – but only as objects of envy and hatred.”

Before the sermon, Rev. Fritts invited the congregation to fill out a card asking for the information below. The cards were then collected and the responses read aloud. A total of 77 cards were returned.

A HYPOTHETICAL QUESTION

Your church is looking for a minister. Two equally qualified candidates are seeking the position. One is openly heterosexual and one is openly homosexual. Who would you choose based on who you would want as your minister disregarding what you feel the rest of the congregation could or could not handle? Which individual would you personally choose as your ministers:

Check one:    __________heterosexual __________homosexual

WHY?

WRITTEN COMMENTS OF THOSE WHO CHECKED HETEROSEXUAL (Totals: 34)

  1. God in the Holy Scriptures has decreed man and wife, male and female. God has said it is an abomination and curse for like kinds to have intercourse. God is not a man that He should lie. He says I am the Lord thy God and I change not.
  2. Although I would like to say “No difference in the two,” I would prefer the heterosexual as an appropriate model for my two sons and also as an affirmation of my femaleness.
  3. Our church would not be helped by calling such a controversial person to be active in our church and community. While we are trying to grow we need not rock the boat and fall in. However I would be accepting of a homosexual if the congregation were to vote for one.
  4. I would choose the heterosexual person because I could more comfortably identify with him or her.
  5. Because I cannot understand the thinking of the homosexual and wonder if such a person can truly understand the world around the heterosexual person.
  6. Unsure of feeling why. Not quite able to accept homosexuality as a healthy alternative.
  7. My answer is based upon the Bible, which is the only true source of wisdom. From the beginning, God has considered homosexuality an abomination – not the person but the sin, Jesus wants to redeem the person by His saving power and make them new in His love.
  8. I would feel more comfortable with this person as there would be no significant influences in his views of what is considered almost “abnormal.”
  9. Heterosexual -BUT! Question as it stands makes little sense, because of a variety of other individual characteristics which could change my choice. The “all things being equal” argument doesn’t hold since in this case all things are not equal. My choice could be the opposite.
  10. They are equal in all other ways. Really I wouldn’t vote for either; don’t want a minister.
  11. Assuming candidates equal in all other areas, I must consider the local environment in which we (church) must function. Open homosexuality will not help liberal religion.
  12. a) I am prejudiced, a “gut-level” reaction; b) I prefer to have a public example of heterosexuality for those (children especially) who might see the minister as a role to emulate; c) I like heterosexual relations myself.
  13. Given the distribution of heterosexual and homosexual people in society, the heterosexual minister would have more in common with a larger number of people in the congregation.
  14. Would view him/her as better fitting into the mainstream of society, I would not stereotype him/her by sex role, I could probably relate better to them although after I got to know them it wouldn’t matter. On the other hand, the homosexual may have a healthier outlook on minorities and those with differing views.
  15. Might have more understanding of my needs.
  16. I believe his homosexuality may be a handicap to him in some situations.
  17. Because of public acceptance or social pressure rather than personal preference.
  18. I’d feel more comfortable relating to that type of person.
  19. I feel that even though I’ve opened my mind to accept people of different life¬styles than mine, I don’t know that I could relate as well to a homosexual as heterosexual – I still have some misgivings.
  20. Honesty is the best policy – birds of a feather, etc.
  21. If they are equally qualified, it would seem natural to choose the one who would cause less dissension. We have enough division of ideas without unnecessarily adding more.
  22. I think if everything else were equal, I would probably choose the heterosexual and I suppose that’s only because I am heterosexual and would feel him better able to advise me. If I were gay, I’d choose the homosexual.
  23. I feel there are enough conflicts in the church without adding this issue.
  24. Because I’m heterosexual.
  25. If both men were equally qualified I could relate best to the heterosexual.
  26. Because of the community my church is in – though rationally I know that is a wrong reason.
  27. They are not equally qualified since the one has failed to solve at least one of his own spiritual or psychological hang-ups – one of the most “delicate,” far-¬reaching, least understood, disturbing, least natural and very basic.
  28. My entire life experience has been in association with heterosexuals, and choice of an equally qualified homosexual would be almost “exhibitionist” leaning over backward. If the homosexual were better qualified I’d choose him.
  29. Likely to be more honest.
  30. I would be more comfortable – fewer questions as to how I felt toward subject thus leaving more time for other matters.
  31. Because it’s the “easy” way out – there would probably be less of a threat from acceptance in the community. However, I would like to think that I would have the courage to make a statement to the community that I am not prejudiced against homosexuals.
  32. As I understand it, homosexuality may result from unfortunate experiences in growing up. If those experiences have affected sexual attitudes, I have to wonder what other attitudes it has affected.
  33. I feel heterosexuality is healthier than homosexuality. I want my minister to be a model of what is healthy and best.
  34. (no explanation – just a check mark)

WRITTEN COMMENTS OF THOSE WHO CHECKED HOMOSEXUAL (Total: 13)

  1. Because I would feel that he (she) needed a chance. Maybe I am wrong, but I have always been for the underdog. (I would not have answered this way 30 years ago but would want to.)
  2. Because I realize this person may have difficulty in obtaining a position in many churches and it wouldn’t make any difference to me.
  3. Assuming there are no other differences, I would choose the homosexual since society and I need to work 0n being more tolerant and accepting of superficial differences among people.
  4. He has probably faced injustice before and deserves a break.
  5. Interacting with anyone of a different lifestyle than my own would give me the opportunity to learn about something outside of myself.
  6. a) More institutions should be willing to accept avowed homosexuals as public figures – the church should be in the forefront; b) The individual probably would find a hard time getting a job somewhere else, even though he is qualified. However these apply only if the candidates are equally qualified.
  7. I would choose on the basis of exposing and learning from, my own, and others’ discriminatory feelings and fear of the idea of dealing with an openly homosexual person.
  8. I would assume this person would be used to confronting controversial issues that are threatening and would not hold back in confronting any issues.
  9. I would like the church as a community to make this kind of social statement. I don’t foresee it making any other difference at all.
  10. a) The extreme difficulty homosexuals face finding a church that will call them as the minister; b) The opportunity it would offer the congregation to grow in facing the issue; c) Respect I would have for that person for having the courage to be open about their sexual preference.
  11. Because I feel he would center his energies on us and the mission of this kind of church instead of being gregarious and diffusing his concentration by being all things to all pe0ple.
  12. Because I feel he/she would have greater difficulty being placed and realizing his/her potential as a minister. Trying to give an honest answer – the issue of personal appeal would also enter in – and maybe buried prejudices would make the heterosexual seem more attractive.
  13. To give him a chance when others probably do not.

WRITTEN COMMENTS OF THOSE WHO CHECKED NEITHER HETEROSEXUAL OR HOMOSEXUAL (Total: 30)

  1. As economists are so prone to say – “All other things being equal”. They never are. Sexual preference is merely one aspect of a ministers (or anyone else’s) personality. Sexual preference is not that important!
  2. I would not want to make that decision based on the individual’s sexual orientation. The two would be different in other ways -personality, philosophy, and so on. If the homosexual seemed the better of the two – I would have no problems with his/her being gay.
  3. I would not base a decision like this on a person’s personal sexuality alone, therefore I will not choose either given only this information.
  4. I would attempt to choose the best qualified candidate based on my perception of their ability, disregarding their sexual preference, I don’t believe that any two candidates would be perfectly equal.
  5. I couldn’t make such a choice with the information you’ve provided. I don’t feel that I would discriminate against either based on their sexual preference.
  6. The minister I’d choose is one who could relate to me, who’s beyond flaunting a lifestyle, who’s into more than himself – whatever he is.
  7. This hypothetical would never happen because no two people are perceived as equally qualified, I would neither seek or avoid a gay minister.
  8. I could not make a choice based on sexual preference – some other criteria would have to be used.
  9. I can’t choose. I would prefer a heterosexual because homosexuals make me uncomfortable, especially if I would want personal counseling, But I think I’d learn more about homosexuals from a homosexual than too it might not matter much. Sexuality is a minor part of a minister’s role – isn’t it?
  10. I would disregard the matter of homo/hetero sexuality and choose on the basis of other criteria altogether.
  11. Depends – Whichever one I liked better, regardless of sexual preference, I would probably choose a lesbian minister over a male straight minister.
  12. I would have to know them both as to character, personality etc.
  13. The sexual leanings would make no difference if either can be open-minded in this ministering.
  14. This has no bearing on my choice at all.
  15. I would hope I could find some other basis for my decision, I have very little experience relating to persons who are openly homosexual but what I have had has not been unpleasant.
  16. I would have to decide which one based on whether liked him or her, disregarding sexual preference because I feel that is irrelevant.
  17. I don’t think sexual preference should make a difference – I wouldn’t want either if they were being very blatant about their sexual activity.
  18. I don’t know. More would depend on the theological and socio-organizational. I find both extremes probably inadequate.
  19. I would choose the one I thought would make the best minister regardless of his sexual choice.
  20. Having not met either of the persons, I cannot answer. Sex preference is not a legitimate variable.
  21. There is no such thing as being equally qualified. I don’t believe sexual preference should be the basis of choice.
  22. Impossible – something would sway my opinion but not sexual preference.
  23. I would prefer a heterosexual minister primarily because I myself am heterosexual and feel that I would probably relate to him or her in an easier fashion.
  24. I would not be able to choose one or the other on this basis. I would have to know them as individuals and base my choice on how I would relate to them.
  25. It would make absolutely no difference. A person’s sexual preference is their own business and only one aspect of themselves.
  26. It would make little difference what the minister’s sexual preferences were. Which minister would be best for me would depend upon his other qualities such as humor, intelligence, fair-minded and friendly.
  27. I can’t make a choice between the two if the only thing I have to go on is sexual preference, This is not a major factor in my visualization of a good minister.
  28. There are other factors much more important, I could care less what sexual tendencies a person has, I might well choose the homosexual based on his strength and courage to be honest about his homosexuality regardless of social pressures and taboos.
  29. I would have to know more about the individuals – their personalities before making a decision. Their sexuality should not enter into it.
  30. There is no way I can decide on that basis.
Jane Dwinell

Worship Service, UU Rainbow History Project

Offered by Jane Dwinell, October, 2019
UURMaPA Conference

Opening Words

We gather this morning in good company, remembering those who have come before, celebrating those who will come after, being grateful for all that we have together.  For those who have sparked our lights, who have mentored our way, who stick by us through thick and thin.  For these we are grateful, and for these lights we kindle our chalice.

Reading

“Who Am I Not to Be Blessed?” by Chris Jimmerson

In moonlit shadows,
At the edge of night-darkened oak trees
I see it.
Across sunny pathways,
In the buzzing of insects, amongst the flowering forest greenery,
I hear it.
From the touch of ones loved,
The embraces of those gone before me,
I feel it.
In the poems I love dearly,
The songs that speak to my heart,
The sculpture that catches my imagination,
The discoveries still to be made,
I sense it.
It is in the fire of distant suns,
The cool drip of waters,
The slight chill in the breeze,
The laughter of children, no matter what their age, old and young, grown and still small;
It is the breath of life, the stardust of souls, the magic of remembrance.
Who am I not to surrender to it in gratitude?
Who am I to not be blessed?

Reflection

It’s a pretty strange profession we’re in — or were in, depending on how you look at it.  Does anyone ever “stop” being a minister?  That, perhaps, is a topic for another day.

Today I want to talk about the gratitude I feel for colleagues.  We’re told that we shouldn’t be friends with our congregants….  So we often turn to colleagues.  But then, they move or we move, and we are now far-flung.  Do those close bonds continue or not?  Do we now make new friends among our colleagues in a new area?  What about those seminary friends, people we deeply bonded with through the stress and discovery of those years?

Being here with all of you this week provides another layer of bonding.  Even though I don’t know most of you very well, there is a camaraderie, a knowing that we’ve been in the same place, though at different times.  I feel grateful for all of you, what you’ve shared, what you haven’t shared, simply your presence knowing that there are people you’ve made a difference for.

Right now, a group of retired colleagues is making a big difference for me.  There is a monthly Zoom meeting for those of us who are caregivers for a loved one — partner, parent, sibling.  It’s a simple, quiet hour where we share what’s going on for us.  As many of you know, my husband, Sky, has Alzheimer’s disease — a path that we certainly didn’t intend to take.  Other than my best friend from high school, it’s my colleagues — retired and not yet retired — who have been my greatest support, and for that I am immensely grateful.

But I want to tell you a brief story about the first and most influential colleague for whom I am grateful.

I grew up in Vermont’s capital, Montpelier.  I had a pretty normal life.  I was a good student, and I participated in theater, music and other extracurricular activities.  I had a group of close friends.  I was active in my church, a United Church of Christ.  A regular teenager’s life, or so I thought.

Until that day when someone called me a lezzie.

I didn’t know what that word meant.

A friend more worldly than I said, “Oh, that means lesbian.”

Once again, I was clueless, but wasn’t about to say so.  I waited until I got home and headed for the dictionary.

“Lesbian: a female homosexual.”

I searched again.

“Homosexual: of, relating to, or characterized by a tendency to direct sexual desire toward another of the same sex.”

Oh.

So there was a word for what I had been doing with my best friend!  Wow.

Now I knew why I didn’t have a boyfriend.

In the meantime, I was part of a church that was active in the civil rights movement.  The minister spoke frequently of justice, and that God was color-blind.  We held meetings, and sit-ins, and people went to Washington to march.  My best friend’s father — yes, the same best friend — her father wept the night Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.  It was the first time I had seen a man cry.

My heart understood faith and justice went together, and that until all people were free, no one was free, and that being part of a religion meant I was called to do all I could to ensure that all people were respected and honored no matter their race, creed or ethnicity.  Sexual orientation was not yet a word in my — or most anyone else’s — vocabulary.

Then came the Stonewall Riots, and, not long after, I went to Washington for a one of the Vietnam Moratorium marches.  Wandering along the march route, looking for a group to walk with, full of excitement and hope with the size of the crowd, the chanting, and the signs, I spied the Gay Pride banner and joined the group.  Soon I was holding one end of the banner, proudly marching down Constitution Avenue, media all around.  I was proud, but I still had no idea what it all really meant.

Back home, I spent time with my minister, sharing with him that I thought I, too, wanted to be a minister.  He encouraged me, took me under his wing, but I never dared share with him this other thing… this gay thing.  I believed in justice, and would work to see that happened for black people, and the people of Vietnam, but somehow, it never occurred to me that gays and lesbians also sought justice.

Not long after, I left Vermont for college, and my childhood minister killed himself.

So much for justice.  So much for the mercy and love of God.  If a minister, someone I thought had a direct line to God, could take his own life, I wanted nothing to do with this profession.  And the church… a lot of good it did.  Wally Short was gone, and my life would not be the same.  My faith was shattered.

We never knew why he killed himself, and the mourning was incomplete.  Wally had been loved by all, and admired by many.  His wife and children shed no light on his passing.  I remained haunted for years and had stayed away from church and religion in a great part because of his unexplained death.

Then I could no longer ignore the call — the call to love, the call to justice, the call to right relationship and divine presence that is found in religious community.

But Wally’s memory stayed with me, and stood by me as I learned and questioned, and prayed, and ministered to those in my care.  Why had he died?

Then at the 2000 GA in Nashville, I was chatting with the woman behind me in line as we waited to get coffee.  My name tag identified me as a Vermont resident, and she, too, had lived in Vermont for a time.

“Where?” I asked.

“Montpelier,” she said, “In the mid-sixties.”

“Did you attend church then?”  I wondered.

“Yes,” she said, “Bethany Church.”  My childhood church.

“You knew Wally Short, then,” I said.

“Oh, yes,” she said, “wasn’t he wonderful?  He inspired my husband to go into the ministry.”

“He inspired me, too,” stunned by this conversation in the coffee line.

“It was such a tragedy that he killed himself,” I ventured.  “I never knew why he did it.”

“Oh,” she said slowly.  “You didn’t know?”

“No… what?”

She hesitated.  “My husband and I had lunch with him the day he died.”

“Then… why?”  I asked.

“He killed himself because he was gay,”  she said softly.

The pieces fell into place.

It was my turn to order coffee, and I looked back to thank her for telling me, but she was gone.  I have no idea who she was, but I am forever grateful for our chance encounter.

Today, thanks to those who have gone before and paved the way, ministers in our faith do not have to fear being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and/or queer.  There is a place for us here.  And, gradually, there is a place for the queer community in other faith traditions including my childhood UCC.  I wish Wally could have lived long enough to experience this change.

I give thanks for Wally Short and what he taught me about the intersection of faith and justice.  The fight is not yet over, but we’ve come a long way since Stonewall.

And thank you for being here, for yourselves, for each other, and for our faith.

Amen

Closing Words
by Rumi

Be grateful for your life, every detail of it,
And your face will come to shine like the sun,
And everyone who sees it will be made glad and peaceful.
Persist in gratitude, and you will slowly become one with the Son of Love,
And Love will shine through you its all-healing joy.

Jay Deacon

Memories, Thoughts, Reflections on the Journey of GLBTQ People in the UUA

Offered by Rev.  F.  Jay Deacon, D.Min.
Keynote Address, UURMaPA Conference, October, 2019

(Note:  This is not a word-for word transcription of Jay’s talk.  Some asides have been omitted.  For the full flavor of his presentation, we recommend that you also view the video.)

Guess I’ll start this with 1969, the year of Stonewall, when Rev.  Jim Stoll came out publicly at a UU college conference and became, other than out MCC ministers, the first American minister to come out.

I wasn’t a UU in 1969 — I was about to enter Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, where I was a student from 1970-73.  After some agony I found my way to MCC.

So I didn’t know the early pioneers — not Jim Stoll, who after coming out never served a congregation again; or Dick Nash or Elgin Blair.

Before I showed up, there was the 1970 GA resolution against anti-gay and -bi discrimination; I wasn’t there when Nash and Blair lobbied in 1971 for the creation of an Office of Gay Affairs (so cleverly named), or in 1973 when the GA voted to create it or in 1974 when the GA voted to fund it.  I didn’t know Arlie Scott, who ran the office from January 1975 through 1977.  But I sure knew Bob Wheatly, who ran the office from 1977 until about 1984, and Daniel Pentlarge, who served as Acting Director until I started in 1986.

So let me give you just a little slice of the religious terrain facing this then-young gay person.  I was brought up in a giant evangelical Presbyterian church on the Jersey shore not far from Murray Grove, where John Murray stepped ashore carrying his Universalist gospel.  But nobody in Ocean County would ever have heard of Universalism.  Here, homosexuality was not spoken of.  The church was huge, and socially, the place to be seen — I could see how my lower-middle-class parents absorbed the respectability of the place, but I found it pretentious and boring, and my form of teenage revolt was to become an outright fundamentalist; I joined the Assembly of God, to my parents’ horror (and mine, now!).  Years later, my parents’ giant Presbyterian church became an anchor of the anti-gay sentiment in the denomination.

I went to the A/G’s Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri.  It was an awakening to the hypocrisy and religious pathology of fundamentalism.  In my senior year I left, disgusted, completing the last couple of courses by correspondence, and went to work for the Pentecostal evangelist David Wilkerson in New York.  He produced a film in which he is interviewing — his description — a Communist Lesbian somewhere in the Village, and he asked us all what we thought of it.  He didn’t like my answer and fired me for being a Communist sympathizer.  This was the end of my time with Teen Challenge.

So in 1970 I went on to Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary — big school with Billy Graham on the Board — and there I found my biblical and theological studies disturbing.  There was too much that didn’t add up, didn’t make sense.  To make it worse, translating the Bible from Greek and Hebrew revealed a deeply flawed text that had no chance of being divinely inspired.  By my senior year, I was editor of the seminary newspaper, and someone brought me a story about the chartering service of the Metropolitan Community Church of Boston (which met, you won’t be astonished to learn, at Arlington Street Church), which he thought I wouldn’t probably run, but I did.  It drew the responses you’d expect — all about the floodtide of iniquity sweeping the nation, barnyard sex, all that.

And I was beginning to face the fact of being gay.  So I ran an editorial defending MCC, all in the third person.  I couldn’t have come out — I would have been denied my M.Div.  The editorial became the talk of the school, and, to some extent, the Boston-area seminaries.  Now, when I sat down at a cafeteria table, everyone got up and left.  It might sound horrible but really it was liberating.  What was hard was when I told my closest friend that I thought I might be gay, and he literally ran away from me and never talked to me again.

But in the meantime, I made a visit to MCC Boston.  I had a friend with a car drop me off at Park Street Church, a huge evangelical outfit historically known as “Brimstone Corner” because the second sermon ever preached there was titled “The Uses of Real Fire in Hell.”  And I walked across the Common and Public Garden to Arlington Street Church, in whose chapel MCC worshipped.  I was a bit scared, because it meant being for the first time in my life surrounded by these people I’d always learned were strangely depraved.  It was utterly transformative:  because whatever I thought of myself, I knew these were good, warm, decent, spiritually sensitive human beings.

There, I met the great Rev.  Nancy Wilson, who would go on to be the denomination’s leader.  And I met founding pastor Larry Bernier, who had his eyes on Hartford, CT, where he wanted to plant a new congregation.  I was weeks from graduation:  would I be interested?

So MCC sent me to Hartford to found a new MCC congregation there.  When we tried to find a house of worship that would rent to us, guess what?  Only the Unitarian Meetinghouse in Hartford was up for it.  Okay, so you weren’t surprised.

These were exhilarating days, as both the city council and state legislature battled over our rights and dignity in the early 70s.  I wish I could describe a quite colorful confrontation with the Catholic Bishop of Hartford and the pastor of St.  Joseph Cathedral, but I have to tell you that in that incident, the Capital Region Conference of Churches, which had admitted us as a member, and its director Rev.  George Wells, acted quite heroically, and we got lots of free space on the front page of the Courant and on local radio and TV news.

Then there were the “Blue Berets,” otherwise called “Faithful & True Roman Catholics,” who would gather monthly at the former World’s Fair grounds in Queens and listen to an address by the Virgin Mary.  Once she said she’d brought her son, but they couldn’t see him.  A basic civil rights ordinance had been introduced in the City Council, and it was time for the hearing.  The Blue Berets came in buses to the hearing, in their blue berets, and they got there early, so I was at the back of the line to testify.  They all addressed the Council, saying the usual appalling and astonishing things, and then it was my turn, and all I had to say was “I believe by now you see why this ordinance is so important.”  It passed

My car had been firebombed; the story was in the next morning’s New York Times.  That afternoon I arrived late at a D.Min.  class at The Hartford Seminary Foundation.  When I walked into the classroom, I was greeted with a warm hug from the professor, Doug Lewis.

From there I went to a much bigger MCC in Chicago — in Lakeview, which we then called Boystown.  These five years were just as exhilarating and challenging, and the old Chicago machine was being challenged by some gutsy reformers.  Aware of racism among gay people, I endorsed Harold Washington and we held a rally for him at the church the Tuesday before the election.  Black ministers warned him to stay away and have nothing to do with “that gay gathering,” but he came and thrilled the packed house, and Washington narrowly won.  So you can imagine my delight a few months ago at the election of Lori Lightfoot as mayor of Chicago!  The ground beneath us is moving.

It was while I was at Good Shepherd MCC that members began getting diagnosed with a strange new disease, and dying.  I served on the institutional review board — really an ethics panel — for the gay clinic, Howard Brown Clinic, and we tried to grapple with the latest medical findings.

Illinois Masonic Hospital, right there in Boystown, set up an AIDS wing, with a hospice, where I visited way too many members, and where my ex and dear friend Evan died in 1988.

And another thing started to happen:  more conservative members starting complaining that I wasn’t really a Christian.  After the umpteenth time that somebody said “Jay, aren’t you really just a Unitarian anyway?”, I rang up Bart Gould, minister of Second Unitarian, just a block away from Good Shepherd, and said “Can we talk?”  What I learned was that I was guilty as charged, and on Pride Day 1982, I joined 2U.  By now I’d begun the process of transferring credentials.

So I had to undergo evaluation by one of these outfits that examines candidates for ministry for mental stability — those Centers for Ministry assessments.  I was sent to one at Garrett in Evanston where an unreconstructed Freudian characterized me as a “belligerent feminist,” and, noting my transition from Presbyterian to Assemblies of God to American Baptist to MCC to UU, worried that I was unstable.  Then came the interview in Boston.  Naturally I worried about the report from Evanston.  The MFC never mentioned it and gave me a “1.”  I was impressed.  My little sermonette was about how we all have to “come out” in our own way and that was much about what Unitarian Universalism represents.

I worked for a while as Acting Information Director after Carl Seaburg retired, for which I must thank Carl.  What a privilege — this newcomer in charge of the UUA archives, those yellowing files full of heroic stories that I found thrilling.  You wouldn’t even have to turn on the lights; those files glowed!  These were stories of heroes, some of them tragic stories of heroes.  It’s very hard to describe what a privilege that was.

The search for a pulpit wasn’t easy, and I felt that search committees must have spring-loaded mailboxes.  Then I was called to the Unitarian Church of Bangor.  A young gay member who had fled harassment in his small town came to the big city of Bangor hoping to find some acceptance and respect; he faced truly ugly treatment and hatred in Bangor.

A gay couple who rented him rooms faced similar treatment.  They found their dead cat on their front step, found their tires slashed, and the police wouldn’t help and showed utter contempt for them as a gay couple, and they couldn’t put their house on the market.

Then Charlie was murdered on his way home from the Unitarian Church, where he was a member and was beloved.  This was 1984, and as he walked home, three Bangor High School students spotted him and jumped out of their car and chased him down, and threw him over the high stone bulkhead into the Kenduskeag Stream that runs through the downtown, and his body was carried away.

Now, in 1985, we were conducting a memorial service on the first anniversary of his death.  Maine Public Radio carried our service, and afterwards we all walked silently to the Kenduskeag Stream as the bells tolled from the Unitarian steeple.  Silently we threw flowers into the stream and the powerful tide carried them away.  A couple of UCC ministers from Bangor Seminary joined us, but nobody from the city government and no other clergy except for Laurel Sheridan, the Interim at the Universalist congregation — whose minister the year before, when Charlie was murdered, would not participate in the original memorial service.

Charlie’s memorial service was a pivotal day for a lot of people who told me their stories.  One couple walking to the first memorial service saw the TV trucks.  One said no, I can’t be seen there.  The other said we must be there; we must be seen there — and that was the day they broke up.

This is the editorial in The Bangor Daily News.  “NOT A MARTYR.  We all know that it’s wrong to kill people, but he did bring it on himself by his effeminate ways.”  I was pretty steamed, and I stormed into the editor’s office with a response, which he did print.  BUT when marriage equality was on the ballot in Maine, The Bangor Daily News ran an editorial in favor of marriage equality, and it brought tears to my eyes.  The earth is indeed moving beneath us.

From Bangor I took the position of Director of OLGC, with the specific task of assessing UU response to queer people.  I organized the Common Vision Planning Committee — and ran a big survey of UU membership.  There were about 3,000 responses; Helen Bishop tabulated the findings which appeared in the Common Vision Report.  The UU Trustees were stunned by the nasty attitudes this turned up.  There are a lot of quotes, and you really ought to take a look at the quotes because they will appall you; you’d be surprised.  This teaches us the lesson that you can change a culture — you can create a new culture, because it isn’t like that any more.  And not only that, we profoundly affected the religious culture outside our own walls.

So we designed the Welcoming Congregation Program, but while this was going on we found we’d been zeroed out of the budget by the Board of Trustees.  So I made sure our motion to adopt the Welcoming Congregation Program and to continue the office was drafted as a Business Resolution, which meant that it had a stronger mandate and was not subject to the Trustees’ budget priorities.  It passed by a margin something like 2000-25.

At the UUA, my office overlooked Governor Dukakis’s office in the Massachusetts State House, where I spent time arguing for passage of basic civil rights legislation during 1986-89, and what was happening was that the legislature would pass it, and Senate President Billy Bulger (brother of gangster Whitey Bulger) would send the bill to the Committee on Bills in the Third Reading, the point of which was never to meet.  So I was part of a civil disobedience when we disrupted the Senate session.  Bulger’s Senate Police threw some of us around and I still have a knee injury from that episode.  But in the next session the bill passed and made it to Gov.  Dukakis’ desk.  He signed it into law in 1989.

We did a lot of demonstrations in front of the State House for marriage equality.  Some activists thought we shouldn’t push such an extreme position on marriage and scare people, but my argument was that it moved the center of gravity for the debate in our direction.  A state Supreme Court decision forced the legislature to pass it in 2004, and Massachusetts became the first state to recognize same-sex marriage.

In 1987 our office coordinated UU participation in the March on Washington to protest the Supreme Court decision in Hardwick v.  Bowers.  UUs came from all over the country.  We held a pre-march worship service at All Souls, then shared a circle dance led by Starhawk, and then the protest.  Eight hundred of us were arrested, and we were handled by court personnel wearing rubber gloves.

But the permanent job had been promised to somebody else, so I went into search, and now I really felt the spring-loaded-mailbox phenomenon.  For a couple of years, no response from search committees, at least until the UU Church in Oak Park, IL search committee specifically asked for my packet.  The chair told me the Settlement Director told them “I don’t think he’s your man,” to which the chair of the Search Committee responded “Oh, we think he might be our man,” and I had ten of the best years of my life at the new congregation I led into a consolidation with Beacon Unitarian Church, of blessed memory, once served by Barbara Pescan and Anne Tyndall! — Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Congregation, at the magical building designed by a young member, Frank Lloyd Wright.

At Unity Temple, a longtime member took me aside after I’d done a Pride service.  He’d been an engaged member for two, three, or four years, but considered himself a good old Chicago leftist, a long tradition there.  As such he hadn’t understood the gay moment and was very uncomfortable about it and with my being there.  But he kept coming, and listening.  I think my evangelistic attitude toward the spiritual and religious significance of UUism and the inclusion of sexual minorities had got through to him.  He wanted me to know I had won him over.  That was one of those moments you never forget.

I’d arranged for a sabbatical working with the British Unitarians, but as the date approached, I learned that the churches I was to serve, in Yorkshire, had refused to accept “an American homosexual.”  The leader of the congregations apologized profusely, and Jeff Teagle, the Executive Secretary of the denomination, found me two other ministries — three months each in Aberdeen and then at Golders Green, London.  Meanwhile, the British Unitarians were coming around to our side very quickly.  The British Unitarians today are outspoken advocates for queer people, and they always march in London’s giant Pride parade.

It was while I was minister at the UU Society of Northampton and Florence (MA)  — from 2002 to 2006 — that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that marriage had to be opened to same-sex couples, and the legislature legalized it in 2004.

In the meantime, I wrote a piece in The Daily Hampshire Gazette announcing that I wouldn’t sign marriage licenses until I could sign them for same-sex couples, and that it was absurd that I could sign a license that no one could sign for me.  I said that I’d still do weddings, but you’d have to have a civil authority sign the form, which is who should be signing legal marriage forms anyway, not clergy.  (What are ministers doing being agents of the state?)   I was interviewed about this on a little Northampton radio station, WRSI, whose studios were in a basement under an art supply store across the street from the church.  The interviewer was Rachel Maddow, not yet discovered by Air America Radio or MSNBC.

On the first day of same-sex legal marriage, I married two women who were members of the Northampton congregation at the Smith College waterfall where they first kissed.  They’d already had a big union ceremony so this time it was just the two of them, their little girl, and me.  And the waterfall, and the marriage license.  There were lots more, and quite a few had already had ceremonies, so some of these were much more intimate, with the main attraction the signed marriage license.

After a couple of interim ministries and two years as contract minister in Manchester, N.H., I was called in 2012 to Channing Memorial Church in Newport, R.I.  where I served through 2016.

In Rhode Island, the Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed represented Newport, and she was a devout Catholic who had never allowed marriage equality to come to a vote, despite years and years of work by the community in Rhode Island.  She refused to meet with activists to talk about it, but she met with me and three members of the congregation, and she agreed to allow a vote.  And the bill passed on Feb.  5, 2013.

And let me say this about Newport.  There were two distinct factions there, and the progressive core had done something magnificent before I was even there.  The opposition was led by a wealthy donor who had Googled me and found a column I’d written for the Northampton newspaper critical of Joseph Ratzinger when he became Pope Benedict, in which I warned that Ratzinger was very bad news indeed, particularly for the gay community.  He fought me to the end.  He’d fought the rainbow sign out front, too.

But among the progressive majority was Pam Goff, who had organized an annual Prom for gay and lesbian and bi and trans high school students, conducted by Channing Church.  At first they used the Police Union hall, and while I was there, we moved the Prom to the City of Newport’s oceanfront Rotunda and Carousel.  Some of the kids came on buses from Providence.  The more conservative members didn’t dare argue publicly that we shouldn’t be doing it, but their views were pretty clear.  BUT this past Spring brought the tenth annual Prom.

So it’s always a soap-opera.  As someone wise once said, a minister has always got to keep one suitcase packed.

And that brings us to Meg, so let me turn it over to Meg right here.

 

After Meg Riley made her presentation, Jay concluded with the following statement:

 

What a brilliant and beautiful story!

Look, here really is my point.  What this religious and spiritual movement is about is the evolution of consciousness and culture.  And how is this universe aware of itself, except in you and me, the human presence, our human consciousness, so far as we know the universe’s highest achievement?  When you awaken, the universe awakens.  I know something about the evolution of consciousness because I underwent it and shared with many others who did, too.

We’re way less original than we sometimes like to think we are.  We are contained in a culture and we’re part of it, a culture or cultures that are bigger than we are and that shape us.  Meg spoke of her disappointment when her political hero Paul Wellstone opposed marriage equality.  I can be forgiving of historical figures whose better instincts were overridden by the force of that culture.

But we have all participated in the creation of a new culture.  And I’m not much of a theist, but somewhere at the heart of things there is an intelligence and an energy and, I think, a purpose that draws us forward to higher human possibility, and I think we’ve got to never forget that that is what this religious movement is about.  Because religion is either a lock on an outmoded past, or it’s an engine of evolution.  It’s always one or the other, and just observe the Religious Right if you want to see the other facet of religion.

The UU spiritual movement bears witness to higher human possibility, and a culture that could and did evolve beyond the narrowness of the world in which the Apostle Paul lived, the world of the Levitical Holiness Code, the world of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, the world of Franklin Graham and Mike Pence.  An amazing thing.  Freeing people from the presumptive authority of ancient scriptures and enfolding them in a community that honored their humanity, believing in them, and standing by them.

So all I really want to say in conclusion is that this spiritual movement, once again, is about the evolution of consciousness and therefore of culture.  And I think we feel the draw and the depth of it toward higher human possibility.

The ground is moving beneath us; everything is in motion.  It’s as though you wake up in a moving car plummeting forward and, through your awakening eyes, you see that nobody is at the wheel.  Take it!  The future is in our hands.

Kay Greenleaf (1939 – 2018)

Researched by the UUMA; Offered by Cathie Severance
UURMaPA Conference, February and October, 2019

Kay Greenleaf was born on December 23, 1939 in Orlando, FL to parents Richard and Helen.  She earned a Bachelor of Science in Education from Indiana’s Ball State University in 1962, following which she worked in many fields including high school drama, criminology, and social work.  Later in life, after experiencing a call to ministry, Kay earned her Master of Divinity in 1996 from Methodist Theological School in Ohio.

She was ordained on April 20, 1997 by the First UU Church of Columbus, OH.  She served for a year as consulting minister to the UU Fellowship of Morgantown, WV, following which she served the UU Congregation East in Reynoldsburg, OH until late 1998.  She was then called to the UU Fellowship of Poughkeepsie, NY, where she served until her retirement in 2009.  The Poughkeepsie fellowship later elected Kay their Minister Emerita.

Kay was active in the denomination, belonging to the Ohio-Meadville Chapter of the UU Ministers’ Association, the Ministerial Sisterhood, and UU Revival, among other organizations.  Prior to her ordination, Kay performed much supply preaching at UU congregations, and served on many congregational boards and committees — especially at First UU Columbus, where she was always eager to share her wisdom and lend a hand.

Social justice was one of Kay’s great passions throughout her life.  She was a staunch advocate for adequate welfare and health care systems, and most especially for civil rights — especially for people of color and LGBT people.  In 2004, after the Mayor of New Paltz, NY was prohibited from performing same-sex marriages, Kay volunteered to continue the marriages.  She enlisted UU ministers and clergy from other denominations to help marry about 100 same-sex couples over the next several months; she and a UU colleague were arrested for this work and the charges were eventually dismissed.  Kay once wrote, “Ending racism, sexism, heterosexism, and ableism is critical to making the world spiritually richer and more humane.”

Kay loved language and words.  She began writing as a child and continued writing poetry, short stories, and sermons — though she never published.  She carried a note pad with her, ready to write when she saw something that touched her.  Kay also enjoyed raising, training, and showing dogs; collecting works of art; nature and wildlife photography; folk, classical, and opera music; and birding.

Kay died January 19, 2018, survived by her wife of 31 years, Pat Sullivan, and their beloved pets.  Pat says of her:  “Kay took people at face value and always saw the good in them.”

What in your ministry should be part of the queer history of our faith?

Rev. Kim K. Crawford Harvie
Arlington Street Church

I’ve been thinking about how many secrets I’ve kept about our queer colleagues of blessed memory — those who were (almost always rightfully) terrified to live out loud.  I wish they had lived to see this day, this gathering.

It’s a beautiful question: What in your ministry should be part of the queer history of our faith? You asked for one or two things: I think of three, though I promise to be very brief.

First, a deep bow to the sex-positive, spirit-filled OWL, which was piloted at First Parish in Concord on my 12-year-old “Sunday school” classmates and me as AYS — About Your Sexuality. My coming out as a lesbian was about as earthshaking for me as saying I was headed for the amusement park. No shame; just joy. And among those in the generations ahead of me who heard my news, the larger embrace of Unitarian Universalism’s first principle held fast — a moral compass point, that flame in the chalice. I know some wrestled privately with their demons, but they knew the onus was on them, and they never stopped loving me.

Second, there was Unitarian Universalism’s response to the AIDS crisis. I don’t know what I would have done if I’d had to deal with the fear of G*d that so undid my colleagues of other faith traditions. When I was serving in Provincetown, the parish priest had a young man living with him — his lover. But he invoked his god’s wrath at any variation on Adam and Eve, preached vividly about the eternal fires of hell, and refused to perform the funeral of anyone who had died with AIDS.

I should add that neither, by the way, would he welcome to his pews anyone who was divorced. When, in my first days in Provincetown, a fishing boat sank with four divorced men on board, the families came to me to ask me to perform the memorial service.

And so the queer community as well as Portuguese families began to attend the Meeting House. And then the queer children of those Portuguese families came home, and there was peace once again.

And third, there was the place of Unitarian Universalism at the heart of the movement for marriage equality. Our Association staff at 25 Beacon Street hung a huge banner from the 6th-floor balconies on the wall facing the State House, announcing that marriage equality was a civil right. No one was surprised that the first legal same-sex marriage in a church in this country was in a Unitarian Universalist church! And two month’s later, Boston’s Pride parade featured city blocks full of delegations from our congregations across the region — perhaps the biggest banner parade in our history. Local news called it a Unitarian Universalist Pride march.

Finally, in anticipation of speaking to the question, “Tell us about the AIDS years,” here is just one glimpse:
I’m remembering my Provincetown parishioner, Paul Richards.

Paul was a big, blonde, boyish Midwesterner with the energy and exuberance of a Labrador Retriever. On his own initiative, with his Baptist heart, Paul recruited new members to the Meeting House by inviting groups of six friends at a time to Sunday brunch in his home. The hitch was that the invitation started with the church service from 11-12; if you planned to eat, you had to meet Paul in his pew. He was shameless; he was charming.

One late summer Sunday afternoon, the last wedding party of the day was being photographed on the front lawn under a cloudless sky. Paul popped in and said, “My boat’s at the pier – Let’s go!”

I could see the Kaposi’s sarcoma erupting on his left calf. I was exhausted, but I went.

Paul motored way, way out into the bay, until the leaning steeple of the church took its place in Provincetown’s silhouette on the horizon. He threw the anchor and we sat there, in silence. From a distance, the dying and death, loss and grieving all took their place. Then Paul said to me, “Listen. In all this madness, even if it kills every single one of us and there’s no one left to tell the stories, it matters that we love each other well.”

Among the many lessons of the plague, I cherish this: Sometimes, if we’re very lucky, someone shakes us awake and reminds us to pay attention in this very moment. Paul Richards, ¡presente!

Thank you, my friends.

© Rev. Kim K. Crawford Harvie, Arlington Street Church, Boston, 2019

Brendan Hadash

Personal Reflections – Brendan Hadash

Offered at UURMaPA Conference, October, 2019

In January 1982, I began my extension ministry in North Hatley, Quebec, and West Burke and Derby Line, Vermont.  I considered myself in the closet with the door open.  If anyone asked, I promised to myself that I would speak honestly and openly.  This is the most conservative part of Vermont, so I was discreet.  The only “gay” activity I did at the church was running a monthly potluck for gay men.  In 1983, Alan (now my husband), came to the potluck and we have been together for 36 years.  We attended the 1984 General Assembly where civil unions were approved.  I was so proud of my denomination.  Alan and I immediately asked Rev.  Deane Starr, our district executive, to perform our ceremony.

On March 31, 1985 we were the first gay male couple in Vermont to have a wedding officially sanctioned by a denomination.  We tried to keep the ceremony secret, but word got out.  Someone in the church complained to the District Executive, but since he had performed the ceremony he explained that this was denominational policy.  The wedding did not seem to affect my ministry in any substantial way.

In June 1986, my extension ministry ended successfully and I entered the search process.  In those days many UU congregations would not call a gay minister and with a male spouse, being gay was impossible to conceal.  Eventually I left the ministry because after over a year of searching, there were no prospects.

In 1994, someone from the St.  Johnsbury church (with only 3 members), knowing that I had been an ordained UU minister, contacted me and asked if there was anything I could do to save the church.  I eventually was called as their minister.

About this time I became active in the struggle for gay marriage.  In 1995 the local (extremely conservative) newspaper asked to interview me about my activism.  After a short internal struggle, I remembered that being in the closet with the door open meant that I would answer any questions openly.  On May 31, 1995 there was a full page spread in the paper with pictures.  This time being openly gay became an asset, as several gays and lesbians joined the church.

When the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task force needed an amicus brief from religious leaders in Vermont supporting the right to marry, I helped organize VOWS (Vermont Organization for Weddings of the Same Gender).  This organization eventually included 42 religious leaders from 6 denominations, including all the UU ministers in Vermont.  Many UUs helped work toward civil unions and same sex marriage.

Right after Civil Unions were passed, Alan and I were wed on July 5, 2000.  I am pretty sure I am the first gay minister to be legally wed in the U.S.  Of course, when gay marriage became legal, Alan and I got married for the third time.

When I started my ministry as a closeted gay man in 1982, never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be legally married.  I am proud of the small role I played and my denomination played in making that possible.

Robert P. Wheatly

Rev. Robert P. Wheatly (1919 – 2002)

Offered by David Hunter
UURMaPA Conferences, February and October, 2019

The Rev. Robert P. Wheatly died in 2002 at the age of 83.  He was born in Oklahoma City and raised in Jacksonville, Florida.  I don’t know anything about his childhood or his religious upbringing, but he was ordained by the Disciples of Christ in 1941 and worked at a Disciples church in 1942 and 43, in what capacity I don’t know.  He joined the Air Force in 1943 and was stationed in Alaska until he left the military in 1946.  While in the Air Force, in 1945, he became a Unitarian.  I don’t know what led to that conversion or what it meant, theologically or institutionally.  After he left the Air Force he went to college — or perhaps he returned to college — earning a Bachelor of Arts degree from Stetson University, in Florida, in 1948.  From 1949 until 1955, without any formal theological education that I’m aware of, he served Unitarian churches in Westboro, Massachusetts; Lawrence, Massachusetts; Manchester, New Hampshire; and Jacksonville, Florida.

In 1955 he left the ministry, and for the 1955-56 academic year he taught at the Fenn School for Boys, in Concord, Massachusetts.  For the next eleven years he held positions in the business world.  Then in the mid-1960s his call to ministry resurfaced and he studied at the Harvard Divinity School.  But after a time at Harvard he transferred to the Crane School of Religion at Tufts University, an historically Universalist seminary, from which he received his Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1968, the year that Crane closed.

Next for Bob Wheatly was the MFC.  They turned him down.  Students at Crane were shocked; they agreed, Doug Gallager, a Crane student at the time, reports, that Wheatly was “the very model of a solid minister.”  Was he rejected because he was gay?  He wouldn’t talk about it.  “He flat out refused to tell what happened,” according to Gallager.

From 1967 until 1972 he held a number of positions, including credit and collection for Beth Israel Hospital (1967-1971); field supervisor for the U.S.  Census (1970); and fund raiser for the Arlington Street Church (1971).  From 1973-1977 he was Executive Director for the Cambridge Council on Aging.

From 1977 until his retirement in 1987, Wheatly worked for the UUA, primarily as director of the Office of Gay and Lesbian Concerns.  In 1979, the MFC, apparently recognizing the mistake they had made a decade earlier, granted Wheatly preliminary fellowship, and for a time he served the UU Church of Medford, Massachusetts.

To summarize his life work in a few words, Wheatly was an outspoken advocate for gay and lesbian rights.

Bob was survived by his life partner, Kenneth English.  When Bob had his heart attack, they were both at home, and when the ambulance came — this was in 2002 — Kenneth wasn’t permitted to ride with Bob.  And Mt Auburn Hospital shut Kenneth out entirely from medical decisions.  Bob died, and Kenneth was treated as though he had no special relationship with Bob.

Newell Deane Starr (1923 – 1996)

Offered by Rev. Arthur Severance
UURMaPA Conferences, February and October, 2019

Writes John Buehrens:  Deane Starr was raised in Michigan in the Church of the Nazarene.  He subsequently became a Methodist and then a Universalist.  He served churches in Medford, Sherborn, Acton, and Harvard, MA.  Soon after merger, he became a District Executive in the Chicago area.  During the latter part of the UUA Presidency of Dana Greeley, Starr was the Vice President for Field Services.  He was one of the nine candidates to succeed Greeley in 1969 and came in second to Robert Nelson West.

He then became Minister of the Unitarian Church in Summit, NJ, succeeding Jacob Trapp.  In about 1974 or 75, Deane separated from his wife Wilma, with whom he had six children, and came out as a gay man.  Since, according to Jim Hobart, “at that time coming out was the equivalent of deciding to leave the ministry,” Deane left the ministry for a time, but then returned as District Executive for Vermont/New Hampshire.  His daughter Susan Starr, now also deceased, graduated from Starr King School for the Ministry and was also in fellowship, primarily as a community minister.

Rev. Newell Deane Starr died of AIDS on Saturday, November 16, 1996.  He was 73 years of age.  His service was held at Arlington Street Church, officiated by Gene Navias.

Nancy Crumbine wrote:  Deane was District Executive of New Hampshire/Vermont when I approached the possibility of UU ministry.  He is singlehandedly responsible for my pursuing it, and was an immense support to me and to our congregation until he died.  He was a great, great soul.  Brilliant, generous and kind.  A great wit.

Writes Steve EdingtonI knew Deane Starr from when I began my ministry with the UU Church of Nashua, NH, in 1988 — a ministry that lasted for 24 years.  Deane was the District Executive for what was then the New Hampshire/Vermont District.  He became a friend and mentor during the early days of  my Nashua ministry.  I always appreciated his kindness and counsel.  He courageously came out as a gay man (while in a heterosexual marriage) when that was still not an entirely safe thing to do — even in UU circles.

Jim Hobart wrote:  (When) I came to my first ministry in Upton, MA, I saw Deane regularly at district meetings and district ministers’ meetings.  As a young and inexperienced minister, I found Deane a source of wisdom regarding ministry, a dynamic preacher, and a “leader” whether or not he had the official title.  He was also a genuinely authentic and caring person.

Nancy Doughty wrote:  Deane Starr — so many recollections of him!  First, as husband and father to a large family that I met at Ferry Beach where we were on staff together.  I regularly saw him at ministers’ meetings, then in about 1982-3 we were both Ministerial Settlement Reps.  There was a gathering of all the reps for a workshop on the sensitive issue of bringing ministerial lists to congregations that might include gays.  During the workshop (where only 2 of us were women among all the men), one of Deane’s male colleagues outed him.  I know I was shocked… at least Deane reported back to me my face revealed that.  But after the workshop ended I gave him a big hug.  I know for some time he did not have a settlement, but worked for Kelly Association doing clerical work, even being assigned to some UU organization on one occasion, whereupon he was asked, “What are you doing here?”

After losing his son Paul to AIDS, Deane was bereft.  A year after Paul’s death, Deane took a short boat cruise off the west coast of Naples, FL.  Here is how he described the experience:  “The entire sky, from horizon to horizon, was aglow with colors — reds, purples, pinks and golds.  Then the colors faded and the deep indescribable deep, deep indigo of late twilight filled the sky.  Then the boat turned around, and on the eastern horizon was a full and glorious moon.  With tears streaming down my face, I realized that although my son’s being had been scattered, he remained a part of this awesome beauty.  We can never contain the beauty in which we live and move and have our being.  But whether we live or whether we die, we are contained within this beauty.”

TEN SUGGESTIONS FOR A HEALTHY CONGREGATION
Deane Starr

  1. Always be kind to one another, even if you think meanness is justified.
  2. Always attribute the best possible motives to one another, even when you do not understand one another’s words and actions.
  3. Promise to one another only what you really intend and are capable of delivering.
  4. Laugh and cry together, sharing both your joys and heartaches.
  5. Be very quick to praise one another, and very slow to criticize.
  6. Defend one another, but avoid being defensive.
  7. Accept one another’s gifts with gratitude; accept one another’s deficiencies with grace.
  8. Do not tell one another how to feel.  Remember that feelings are facts, and treat them accordingly.
  9. Greet each new day with expectation and each hour of rest with thanksgiving.
  10. Let your eyes light up when you come into one another’s presence.

 

Robert L. Hadley (1928 – 2012)

Offered by Rev.  David Hunter
UURMaPA Conferences February and October, 2019

Rev. Robert L. Hadley died in 2012, at the age of 84.  Hadley was born in Leominster, Massachusetts.  He graduated from Yale University in 1950.  He went on to attain a Bachelor of Sacred Theology from Harvard Divinity School in 1956 and, 21 years later, a Master of Sacred Theology from Boston University School of Theology.

He was ordained in 1956 by the First Congregational Society in Leominster, Massachusetts, a Unitarian congregation.  For the next 31 years he was the minister for the First Church Unitarian in Littleton, Massachusetts.  Then, from 1987 to 1991, he served as minister of the Maumee Valley Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Perrysburg, Ohio, and from 1991 to 1994, he served as minister of the Universalist Meeting House in Provincetown, Massachusetts.  Lastly, he served as minister of the First Parish Church in Fitchburg, Massachusetts from 1995 until his retirement in 2002.

Scott Alexander wrote recently that “Bob was serving our congregation in Pittsfield, Massachusetts when he came out as a gay man.  He later moved to Provincetown to serve the Universalist Meetinghouse, and was my minister for several years there.  He met his partner (Jimmy Sullivan) there, and after his retirement they moved to Fort Lauderdale.”  However, neither the church history of the Pittsfield UU Church website nor the UURMaPA obituary of Hadley mentions his having any time of service to the Pittsfield church.

Committed to the denomination, Bob served as:  a member of the UUMA’s Member Insurance Committee from 1974-1977; a Ministerial Settlement Representative in the Massachusetts Central District from 1982-1985; and a member of the UUA AIDS Task Force from 1985-1986.

Throughout his life, he was also heavily involved in his communities.  He served as president of the Central Middlesex Mental Health Association from 1974-1977.  He was also a founding member of the Emerson Hospital Hospice, and served on its board from 1978-1981.

Those who knew Bob remember his love of nature and his passion for restoration.  He restored the gardens around a housing complex in which he lived during Hurricane Wilma.  He and Jimmy took on all of the costs and labor themselves, as well as the upkeep afterwards.  They also restored a historic, landmark house and garden in Provincetown.  Bob once referred to his garden as “an expression of God.”

Dorothy M Emerson

Dorothy M.  Emerson (1943 – 2019)

Offered by Marni Harmony, Written by Dee Graham
UURMaPA Conference, October, 2019

When Dorothy Emerson launched her life as an adult, it was with an awareness of her identity as someone who had a mission in life.  She long felt called to some vocation involving religion because those who inspired her most were ministers.

The privilege she recognized in her early life gave her a call to help others, an awareness that grew as she came to understand how a person’s body of work both influenced and was influenced by culture change.  These ideas were foundational for her own life’s work.[1]

Coming out and into Unitarian Universalism in Austin, Texas, Dorothy went to the 1983 General Assembly in Vancouver, BC, where she felt shocked to find no mention of lesbians at the Women’s Federation biennial.

She recalled, “A straight friend, musician/song writer Carolyn McDade, and I organized a spontaneous workshop we called ‘The Lesbians Among Us and the Lesbian Within Us.’  Quite a few women participated, partly because Carolyn was well-known for her music ministry to women.  The group concluded that UUWF needed to develop a program to address homophobia, provide visibility, and encourage acceptance of lesbians in local congregations, especially in women’s groups.  A curriculum writer was hired and I served as a consultant, but I don’t think the curriculum was ever finished or published.”

That launched Dorothy’s collaborative leadership in opening doors to culture change among us, facing down patriarchal assumptions, heterosexual norms and exclusion of the queer community, as well as broadening her work into anti-racism and classism awareness in the UU movement.

At the 1984 GA, Dorothy said, “I encountered the UU Gay Caucus, a group of primarily gay men.  At this point in the wider gay movement, lesbians were often invisible.  In 1977, the GA had passed the Women and Religion resolution, calling for all UUs to address the roots of sex-role stereotypes in religion, to change sexist ideas and language, and to establish equity for women in ministry and lay leadership.  …The process of implementing this culture-changing resolution had not yet penetrated the early UU gay movement.”

That year, GA affirmed services of union for same sex couples, showing Dorothy “an unanticipated response that delighted us lesbians.  That evening at the scheduled dance, for the first time at GA, same sex couples danced together.  We got a few uncomfortable glances from some folks, but by and large it was a joyous occasion, the beginning of significant culture change in the UU faith community.”

A graduate of Harvard Divinity School with a Doctor of Ministry from Andover Newton, Dorothy has colored our UU rainbow by initiating lesbian leadership in the UU Gay Caucus beginning with the 1985 Convo, by becoming treasurer of the secretive Lambda Ministers Guild about that same year and organizing a meeting at Unity Temple in Chicago.  She participated in the early foundations of what became the Welcoming Congregation program culminating in the 1989 resolution and curriculum.

Donna Clifford, Dorothy’s spouse, and she participated in SMUUGLE, Southeast Massachusetts UU Gays, Lesbians, Etc.  Candidating as an openly lesbian minister since 1988 made her search challenging, as congregations told her they wanted a minister who “shared their values.”  So she founded the UU Women’s Heritage Society and joined the Black Concerns Working Group and the first district Anti-Racism Transformation Team.

With the Rev. Dee Graham and the Rev. Gene Navias, Dorothy co-created and facilitated “Becoming a Welcoming Religious Education Program” for the 1999 fall conference of the Liberal Religious Educators Association.  The following year LREDA became the first UU Welcoming Organization.

Beyond her resumé of contributions, which you can read elsewhere, what truly makes Dorothy Emerson a clergy pioneer of the rainbow comes from her recognition of lesbian culture as a real entity, a pivotal force of community that has the power to strengthen and further bind the ties of LOVE that drive Unitarian Universalism.

For that, she embraced and promoted all of the cultures of the rainbow — gay, bisexual, transgender and gender fluidity and more; disabilities; racial identity; financial and class status — embodying new awareness with the work of inclusion.

And then she looked deeper, spearheading denominational work that she intended would build a more just faith community with the prayer of service for making ours a better, more meaningful world.

Even in retirement, she stepped into this Rainbow Project with fervor and precision, an attention to detail that lives beyond her, as we gather today to continue the culture change that has only just begun.

RESUME: DOROTHY MAY EMERSON

1971-1974:  Humanistic Psychology Institute, San Fransicso, CA — Master of Arts in Psychology and Education

1984-1988:  Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, MA — Master of Divinity

1991-1997:  Andover Newton Theological School, Newton, MA — Doctor of Ministry

1992-1998:  Unitarian Universalist Church of Medford, MA
Minister:

  • Provided inspirational leadership for congregation and community.
  • Planned and presented numerous educational programs.
  • Helped establish Friends of the Mystic River and Community Cupboard Food Pantry.

1998-2002:  Social Investment Forum and First Affirmative Financial Network
Participated in annual conferences on socially responsible investing

1998-2019:  Rainbow Solutions:  Financial and Educational Services, Medford, MA
Consulting:

  • Created adult curriculum on economic justice.
  • Produced PowerPoint presentation and video on Women’s Rights.
  • Consulted with Promise Massachusetts Children, Inc.
  • Designed and taught community education classes on socially responsible investing.
  • Created seminar series on “Money and Empowerment.”

1990-2019:  Unitarian Universalist Women’s Heritage Society, Boston, MA
Executive Director:

  • Edited anthology of women’s writings on social reform
  • Created traveling exhibit of Unitarian Universalist women.
  • Managed organizational development and programs.

COMMUNITY SERVICE

Mass Bay District Anti-Racism Transformation Team

Medford Interfaith Clergy Association President

Wakefield Interfaith Clergy Association Coordinator of Community Cable TV Program, “Conversations with Wakefield Clergy”

PUBLISHED WRITINGS

Sea Change:  the unfinished agenda of the 1960s (Boston, MA, Matrika Press, 2018)

Glorious Women:  Award-Winning Sermons About Women, (Bloomington, IN, iUniverse, 2004)

“Creating a Just Economic Community,” six-session adult curriculum on economic justice (Boston, MA: Unitarian Universalists for a Just Economic Community, 2001)

Standing Before Us:  Unitarian Universalist Women and Social Reform, 1776 – 1936 (Boston, MA, Skinner House, 2000)

“Anti-Racism as Spiritual Practice,” in Everyday Spiritual Practice: Simple Pathways for Enriching Your Life (Boston, MA, Skinner House, 1999)

A Matter of Preference: A Book About the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (4th edition, Providence, RI, New Directions, 1986)

“Sexism and Peacemaking,” sections on UU history and peace action for adult curriculum (Philadelphia, PA, Unitarian Universalist Peace Network, 1984)

Khan Du! Learning Resource Guide and curriculum manuals for children, teenagers, families, and teachers, created to accompany public television series on career education for children with disabilities  (Austin, TX: KLRN-TV, 1978)

[1] Emerson, Dorothy, Sea Change: the unfinished agenda of the 1960s, April 2018

Rosemarie Carnarius

Rosemarie Carnarius (1938-2015)

Offered by Rev. Barbara Child
UURMaPA Conferences February and October, 2019

It is my honor to share with you a little about Rev. Rosemarie Carnarius.  I’m sorry that I never had a chance to know her, but I think of us as kindred spirits since we were born in the same year, 1938.  She was born on November 27 of that year in Leipzig, Germany.  She died October 10, 2015, in Tucson, Arizona.  She was on this earth for 76 years.

Rosemarie grew up as a wartime child in what would become East Germany after 1945.  She lived under Fascism and then under Communism.  No wonder she developed an early and passionate commitment to human rights, self-determination, and peace with justice.

She was politically jeopardized by her own anti-Communist activity while still a teenager.  At 17, knowing that her very life depended on it, she escaped one early August morning to Stuttgart, West Germany.  Unbelievably, she returned over the next two years for two brief visits with her ailing mother, ending with a wild ride through Leipzig with a truckload of soldiers in pursuit.  A suddenly appearing streetcar blocked the large truck but allowed the smaller, faster car and its passengers to proceed.

A few years later she married Roderick Carnarius, and they came to the United States in 1960.  They raised their two children in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  Eventually she became active in the UU congregation of Trenton, New Jersey.

In 1984, with her children grown, her marriage ended in divorce.  She moved to the American Southwest, the beauty of which had long captured her imagination.  She soon involved herself in the life of the UU Church of Tucson, and there her gifts were quickly recognized.  She was invited to preach, and then she served as the Director of Religious Education.  After people kept asking why she wasn’t a minister, eventually she went to study at Starr King School, earning her M.Div.  in  1991.

Rosemarie was ordained by the Unitarian Church of the Monterey Peninsula in Carmel, California, in 1992.  In September of that year, at the invitation of the German Unitarians, she embarked on an emotion-filled return as a minister and goodwill ambassador to the country of her birth.  She spent two months traveling through a now reunited Germany and preaching at over 40 churches.  She said of this experience later that it “was one of the most important and vibrant ministries of my life.  I realized during those travels how much I treasure being an emissary of the heart and a participant in international and interfaith dialogue.”

Back in the U.S., she served an interim ministry to the UU Church of Cheyenne, Wyoming, in 1993-94 and was then called to the UU Church of Las Cruces, New Mexico, where she served 1994-96.  It was there that she met Aston Bloom, who would become her soul mate and life partner for the last two decades of her life.  When I spoke with some colleagues who had been at Starr King School at the same time as Rosemarie, they spoke highly of her but were surprised to hear that we intended to include Rosemarie among the ministers we planned to honor as Stonewall pioneers.  The Starr Kingers said they did not know that Rosemarie was a lesbian.

This fall I had a wonderful phone conversation with Aston Bloom, and I asked her about this.  Frankly, I was wondering whether Rosemarie was in the closet, and truly not a pioneer.  But Aston assured me that after their partnership began in Tucson in 1997, everyone at the Tucson church knew that Rosemarie and Aston were partners.  To honor the significance of her relationship with Aston, Rosemarie published her books under the name “Partnership Publishing.”

As it happened, multiple complications from unsuccessful hip surgery in 1997 reduced Rosemarie’s mobility and disrupted her life.  They did not crush her spirit, however.  Many years earlier she had come to see writing as central to her mission in life.  Despite excruciating pain, she continued to write.  Ten books are her legacy:  five non-fiction books on the need for personal and societal transformation, highlighting such issues as universal human rights, the environment, international relations, materialism, militarism, and, above all, peace with justice in the Middle East.  Her other five books contain her poetry celebrating life, love, nature and beauty.

Rosemarie moved back to Tucson with Aston in 1998.  Rosemarie served as Minister in Association at the Tucson church 1999-2002 and was able to assume limited professional work.  After 9/11, she started a dialogue group called “Inside Out,” which focused on the Middle East.  The group met for 11 years in the home she and Aston shared.  She was a prolific letter writer to both government officials and editors.  Even her forced confinement to bed in 2014 did not stop her speaking up and out on social and political issues.

A couple of years after Rosemarie’s death, Rep.  Pamela Powers Hannley wrote an article in the Arizona Daily Star about a book by Rosemarie called Envisioning a New World in which Rosemarie proposed consciously balancing yin (responsibility) and yang (liberty) in public policy.  She was writing about this country when it was new, when the Declaration of Independence was new, and Rep. Hannley lifted up Rosemarie’s particular attention to balance.  Her message seems to me just as apt today.  She wrote of “two values essential for a vibrant and congenial community: liberty and responsibility, I and We.”

I close with words from the booklet given to people who attended Rosemarie’s Celebration of Life.  This booklet turned out to be a wonderful source of information for me, as well as containing a beautiful collection of pictures.  “The way Rosemarie lived her life and walked this earth can teach us much.  It can show us how to be a more self-aware, inquisitive, appreciative person; how to remain true to oneself and one’s calling; how to seize the day with passion and perseverance, living fully and courageously despite setbacks and losses.  We celebrate her resourceful, adaptable, vigorous, and ever-creative spirit and give thanks for the energy and integrity with which she blessed lives and enriched our world.”

Rosemarie’s books on Amazon

Equal Marriage Statement Prepared for The Massachusetts State Legislature Hearing on Same-Sex Marriage

by the Rev. Eugene B. Navias
Associate Minister Emeritus, Arlington Street Church, Boston

October 23, 2003

I am the Rev. Eugene Navias, a retired minister.  I am seventy five years old.  I have been an ordained minister for fifty-two years.  And I am gay.

My long term partner, Stanley, died of cancer and as he wished, he died in our home and in my arms.

I know a lot from personal experience about the lack of equal rights for gay, lesbian and bisexual couples.

In these precious minutes, I will tell you about what happened to my ministerial colleague and friend, the Rev. Robert Wheatley.  Nine months ago at 83, Bob had a massive heart attack in the night and was dead on arrival when the ambulance brought him and his partner, Kenneth, to Mount Auburn Hospital.

“Who are you?,” the hospital demanded when Kenneth presented himself.  “I’m his life partner,” Kenneth said.  “You have no status,” they told him.  “We need the name of a relative to identify him and give us directions for what to do with his body.”

“I’ve been with him for 52 years,” Kenneth replied.  “He has no living relatives.”  “Prove it,” the hospital staffer responded.  “He wanted to be cremated,” Kenneth said.

“You have no power to authorize his cremation.  You may be wanting to cover up evidence about his death.  We’ll put his body in the morgue until we get some reliable direction.”

Kenneth was grief stricken and distraught when he called me at 7 a.m. to tell me what had happened.  I found a lawyer to help him, but there was not a lot of help to be found.  Bob had never given Kenneth power of attorney, made out a medical proxy, or any other legal document.  His will was inadequate to express his request for cremation.  Kenneth called a crematorium which said they couldn’t pick up the body until it was released by the hospital.  The hospital would not release the body.  Every day Kenneth went to the hospital or called it .  NO, they would not release Bob’s body.  Every day and several times a day Kenneth called me, grieving over the fact that as he said “Bob’s body is still lying on a cold slab.”  This went on day after day for over a week until the hospital gave in.  They didn’t want the body there any more and they were willing to bend the rules.

You see, you have no rights unless you have equal marriage.  No hospital visitation rights, no medical directive rights, no insurance rights, no equal inheritance rights, no equal Social Security benefits, no IRS deductions, no vital rights.  Your partner, your commitment, your relationship is legally worthless.

I believe that society is strengthened the more committed family groups it has, that state and nation are strengthened the more they affirm loving consensual relationships, the more they encourage people to live together in ways which further hope, share and grow faith, and kindle responsible love.

I do believe that equal marriage would aid not only countless lesbigay people, but also it would aid the welfare of our so distressed society.  I want to be able to perform such marriages.  I want to have the right to have such a marriage for myself even at my age.

Thank you for listening.  May you act in the cause of equality.

Katherine (Kay) Greenleaf

Personal Reflection – by Pat Sullivan
Offered at UURMaPA Conference, October, 2019

I met Kay in 1986, and after a year, she moved to Columbus, Ohio, and we officially became partners.  She worked in the social services and had gone to a UU society in her hometown.  After settling into our new home, we started looking for someplace to meet our spiritual needs.  We went to the First UU Church of Columbus, and there was a woman minister in the pulpit, a new experience for me, as a lapsed Lutheran.  We stayed for coffee hour and both felt welcome.  We started attending regularly and then joined.  For the first time since I came out, I was in a place that I felt like I could be my authentic whole self.

Kay and I became very involved in the church, first as “Sunday greeters.” We believed that if members of the LGBT community came to First UU, they would see us and recognize that it was a welcoming church, and they did.  Later we joined church committees and became board members.  Kay even became co-chair of building the new worship center a couple of years later.

When we first joined, there were only a few LGBT folks, so we became among the founding families of “This Way Out,” First UU Church’s lesbian, gay, bisexual concerns group, later a part of UUA’s Interweave.  As individuals and as a group we became very visible and accepted by the wider church community.  In June 1989, we asked the Board to approve the congregation’s participation to march in the Columbus Gay and Lesbian Rights Parade with us.  They overwhelmingly approved and several church members did march.  The Church even placed an ad in the local gay publication that listed welcoming and gay-friendly businesses.

Kay and I had a commitment service at the church in 1989 officiated by the minister who was in the pulpit when we first arrived at First UU.  A friend told us that we were the first to do so, even though there were a few other couples in the church.  Kay designed the ceremony to include everything that was important to us.  We later called it our “high mass,” it was so long.  Thank goodness it was followed by a party and dancing.  Later that Fall two of our friends also had a commitment service.

Our LGBT group was growing, so we decided to organize more formally and Kay became the chair.  We began to hold monthly discussion groups at church and sometimes there were more than 20 of us discussing a variety of issues ranging from “coming out” to substance abuse issues and incest.  At the same time, we started having monthly newsletters and “potlucks” at members’ homes, for bonding and for business meetings to plan activities.

As a group and as individuals, we became close, like a family, and it was at these potlucks that a couple of the men revealed their HIV status.  One of the men, who lived alone, became unable to work and was on disability.  Since his apartment was close to my job, I’d go check on him during my lunch.  When he could no longer live alone, he moved in with Kay and me in our spare room for a couple of months until his parents took him home.  He died not much later.

In February of 1993, we invited and planned the UU Convo to be held at First Church.  There were various workshops, attendees from out of town — all in all, it was a success.  That year, our local Interweave chapter also held the “Welcoming Congregation” sessions for other members of the congregation.  Our group presented Sunday services and designed, donated and built a circular stone wall in front of the new worship center.  We were an integral part of First UU Church.

During these years, we invited the Columbus LGBT community to our annual New Year’s Eve parties with food, music and dancing.  It was one of the few places in town where we could go to a “chem free” party.  Not only did we have fun, but we were able to donate profits to the church.

Even though I’ve moved away, I still hold some of the people from our group as close family.

Kay went to seminary in the mid 90’s and was ordained in 1995.  In 1998, Kay was called to Poughkeepsie, NY to be a settled minister at the UU Fellowship, and we moved.

In 2004, after the Mayor of New Paltz, NY, was prohibited from performing same-sex marriages, Kay volunteered to continue the marriages.  The UU Fellowship overwhelmingly approved and encouraged her action.  She invited Dawn Sangrey, whom she met while in seminary, and who lived nearby, to join in.  They wrote the ceremony words and worked with local activists to plan and hold weekly weddings in New Paltz.  She enlisted U.U.  ministers and clergy from other denominations to help marry over 100 same-sex couples over the next several months.  Kay and I were married the first weekend, and our picture was on the front page of the local paper the next day.  My official outing — I was freaked out and anxious about going to work the next day since I wasn’t widely out.

She and Dawn told the District Attorney that they meant these weddings to be valid and not symbolic.  Since they were performing weddings without a license, they were arrested and formally indicted.  They were the first clergy in the nation to be prosecuted for marrying same sex couples.  There was national and international coverage of these weddings.  In June the court dismissed the charges against Kay and Dawn.  Over the next year they were invited to speak in several UU churches about their experience.  In November 2004, they were recognized, along with their attorney and the mayor of New Paltz, for fighting for the human rights of all individuals, by the National Employment Lawyers Association of New York.

I’m proud as a UU and as Kay’s wife to have been a part of those times in New Paltz, 2004.

James Stoll

James L. Stoll (1936-1994)


Offered by Rev. Jaco ten Hove

UURMaPA Conferences February and October, 2019

“In the world of religion, one of the great neglected actors, a man who had a marquee moment but then fell into obscurity, is the Rev. James Stoll, a Unitarian Universalist who died in 1994. Mr. Stoll, one of the first openly gay ministers in America, had a difficult life… but he was hugely responsible for introducing American churchgoers to gay rights.” So wrote the New York Times [Mark Oppenheimer, 9/18/2010] in 2010 on the occasion of the death of the NYC vice officer [Seymour Pine] who in June 1969 led the Stonewall Inn raid.

Jim Stoll was born in 1936 in Connecticut, educated at Mount Hermon School in Massachusetts, at San Francisco State University and, finally, at Starr King School for the Ministry. After ordination, he served the UU Church in Kennewick, Washington, from 1962 until 1969. After leaving there — and church documents indicate that he was asked to resign — he moved back to the Bay Area.

Wayne Arnason, who was a continental leader in LRY (Liberal Religious Youth) in the late 1960s, remembers Jim as among the early out gay UU leaders alongside Dick Nash, although they moved in different circles. When Wayne met him sometime in 1969, Jim Stoll already had a significant history of support and involvement with continental youth ministry.

On that arc, Jim was an advisor to the post-high school U.U.s called Student Religious Liberals at their Continental Conference over Labor Day weekend 1969, held at Camp La Foret in Colorado. Wayne was there representing LRY and recalls that Jim, like so many closeted gay professionals, was both furious and inspired by the Stonewall Rebellion earlier that summer. “He had decided he would not live in secrecy any longer,” wrote Wayne. “He came out powerfully in a moving sermon and worship service at that conference, and it was a moment that changed my life.”

The New York Times article quoted another colleague who was there, Lee Bond-Upson, a good friend and roommate of Jim’s, who remembers that Rev. Stoll proclaimed, “‘If the revolution we’re in means anything, it means we have the right to be ourselves, without shame or fear.’ …Then he told us he was gay, and had always been gay, and it wasn’t a choice, and he wasn’t ashamed anymore and that he wasn’t going to hide it anymore, and from now on he was going to be himself in public. After he concluded, there was a dead silence, then a couple of the young women went up and hugged him, followed by general congratulations. The few who did not approve kept their peace.” Wayne Arnason adds, “For the first time, I was given access to the point of view of a gay man. The possibility that gay people weren’t sick, just different, opened up to me. The realization that my own ignorance was part of an oppressive system that I supported first occurred to me. I have been forever grateful.”

The next June at the 1970 General Assembly in Seattle, Jim was, as Wayne put it, “all-in with our LRY leadership cadre. He had an apartment in Seattle, and with his home as a base for our organizing, he offered us adult credibility and a place to stay when we needed it. But Jim also wanted something from us as we headed for that assembly. He had authored a resolution he wanted to get before the 1970 UUA General Assembly that would support “homosexual civil rights.” He needed allies, and he needed campaign workers to be able to get this resolution before the General Assembly by petition. The LRY leadership was happy to be among those allies… I don’t remember what the final vote was — but it passed. It was the first official statement by the UUA on anything related to LGBT people.

He was hugely responsible for introducing American churchgoers to gay rights. For those who support gay rights, he ought to be a hero; for those troubled by increased acceptance of homosexuality, he makes a vivid villain.

Rev. Stoll left not only his mark on human rights by advocating on behalf of GLBT Americans, but also his own life. When Rev. Stoll came out as a college student at Unitarian conference in September 1969, he stood in front of the audience and proclaimed “If the revolution we’re in means anything, it means we have the right to be ourselves, without shame or fear.” If only as a society we were to embrace these powerful words, I am confident that we would be a society that respected the beauty and uniqueness of God’s creation. According to one of the conference attendees at the 1969 conference, Stoll continued his speech by announcing that he was gay.

This hero of the GLBT struggle for equal rights died on December 8, 1994. We can only hope that his life and work imbue our continuing struggle for equality.

Richard L. Nash (1935 – 1997)


Offered by Rev. Jaco ten Hove (researched by Rev. Marni Harmony)

UURMaPA Conferences, February and October, 2019

The Rev. Richard Lee Nash received his ministerial training at Meadville Lombard Theological School, graduating in 1961. He then served Chicago’s First Universalist Church for a few years where he was active in a number of social justice causes. At that time he was “in the closet” because UU ministers typically lost their ministries if they “came out.”

He was employed by the UU Service Committee from 1965-1969, eventually serving as Director of Community Services. Colleague and friend Jim Hobart believes it was during this time that Dick did come out and reflected that it “definitely had a negative impact on his ministry.”

In a 2003 book, “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” Mark Oppenheimer (a staff writer for the Christian Century) profiled “America’s first gay ministers and first female priests” and reported that Dick “came out in a sermon on gay liberation, inspired by Stonewall.” Oppenheimer described how a resolution, partly written by Nash, was passed at the 1970 General Assembly, condemning discrimination against homosexuals and bisexuals.

Later in that year, distressed by the lack of any forum for gay religionists in the Los Angeles area, Nash and Floyd Hof, another UU, organized a conference titled, “Getting Our Thing Together.”

According to the press release for their event, it was designed “for people whose sexual orientation is gay and whose religious orientation is liberal.” Nash, as one of the conference conveners, was quoted declaring,”We think the time is ripe to get ourselves together, to discover what kind of continuing association we want, and to join forces to achieve common aims.”

Despite the UUA resolution just months before, it is noteworthy that First Unitarian Church of LA would only host the conference if it was announced that use of the church facilities did not imply church endorsement.

In 1971, Nash was co-founder of the UU Gay Caucus (later called Interweave), which lobbied for the creation of an official UUA department. He became its first coordinator and edited the first several newsletters. He helped expand the idea of an office within the structure of the denomination to work on turning around homophobia within and without the UUA and he drafted the resolution to establish it. Others led a drive to establish the Office of Gay Affairs and it was finally funded in 1974.

Dick later joined the UUA Department of Religious Education’s curriculum team and was one of the chief reviewers of sex education materials. He worked with Gene Navias to revise part of the “About Your Sexuality” curriculum, which appeared as revised in 1973.

In the mid-’70s he began serving the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender community in various secular positions in the Los Angeles area until retirement.

In 1997, Dick’s life was cut short by AIDS.

Jim Hobart has recently written that “Dick Nash is an example of our UU amnesia for those who served and witnessed to the values inherent in our UU faith. He was on the forefront of many social justice issues beginning in the 1960s. He was devoted to an urban UU church presence regarding issues of racism, poverty, and other urban ills. My memory is that he was an anti-war and peace activist.

“He was both modest and determined in serving our UU progressive values and our American democratic ways. In addition to his social justice witnesses, Dick Nash was a good and loyal friend to me and many others.  I still miss him these many years later.”

Frank Robertson (1936 – 2008)

Offered by Rev. Ginger Luke
UURMaPA Conferences, February and October, 2019

I knew Frank Robertson as a religious educator.  He was instrumental in welcoming experienced but non-credentialed religious educators into LREDA when only credentialed religious educators had been allowed.  He made me feel welcomed.  He seemed to always be able to make people of any age, any training, any gender, any race or any religion feel welcomed.

His passion and commitment to children and youth was outstanding.  Perhaps this had such authenticity because he truly understood what it was like to be in the process of figuring out who you are.  He spent extra time and support with leaders in LRY (Liberal Religious Youth) especially mentoring people like Wayne Arnason.  Wayne recalls that Frank was a FULLBAC supporter and a Youth Agenda supporter active in the Fellowship for Renewal in the early 70s.

Frank was a leader within LREDA.  He was the recipient of the Angus McLean Award for Excellence in Religious Education.  Frank was the author of the UUA curriculum on World Religions.  He was a mentor to many religious educators, seminarians and many parish ministers.  Rev.  Abhi Janamanchi recalls Frank as a mentor, friend, cheerleader and family member.  Frank was one of the primary guides into civil rights and gay rights especially for the UUA.

It is thought that Frank was the first openly gay religious educator to be hired or called by a UU congregation when he became the Minister of Religious Education at All Souls in Washington, D.C.  It is also thought that his officiating at a union ceremony at All Souls contributed to his leaving that congregation.

But Frank’s leadership went well beyond his role as a religious educator.  He was a founding member of Interweave, an organization affiliated with the UUA to address the concerns of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) people.  In this role he greatly helped other LBGT persons claim their identity.  Through Interweave’s efforts, the General Assembly was lobbied to pass resolutions concerning LGBT rights and the UUA Office of Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Concerns was established.  Frank was a national and local Gay Caucus leader.

From 1978 to 1980, Frank was a member of the UUA Board of Trustees where he was both soft spoken and effective in lobbying for human rights causes.  He served on the board of the Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA).  He founded and chaired the Unitarian Universalist Religious Education History Group and served on the boards of the St.  Lawrence Foundation and the U.S. Chapter of the International Association for Religious Freedom.  He participated in the International Association for Religious Freedom Congress in Tokyo in 1984.  He was an Elder of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants.

Frank received an M.Div. from the Theological School of St.  Lawrence University in 1962, where he was certified in Religious Education.  He studied World Religions specializing in East Indian studies at Columbia.

He received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity from Meadville Lombard Theological School in 2006.

He was ordained by the First Grace Universalist Church in Lowell, MA and served congregations in Barneveld and Shelter Rock, NY, and Paramus, NJ.  He served as Minister of Religious Education in Washington, D.C., Santa Barbara, CA and Evanston, IL where he was awarded the titled of Minister Emeritus upon his retirement.

Frank died Feb.  6, 2008, survived by his partner of 36 years, Mr.  Rick McDonald of Plymouth, MA, his daughters, Lydia and Denene and four grandchildren.

If Frank were here with us today, he would be 82 years old and he would be congratulating us and gently challenging us to face the work yet before us.  His spirit is truly present with us today.

Thank you, Frank.

Haunted Man of the Cloth and Pioneer of Gay Rights

By MARK OPPENHEIMER SEPT. 18, 2010, New York Times

The death this month of Seymour Pine, the vice officer who in June 1969 led a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, unwittingly galvanizing the gay rights movement, is a reminder that history has its forgotten actors, too. For every star in the history of gay rights — think the politician Harvey Milk, or the comedian Ellen DeGeneres — there are many more bit players, people whose names do not even make the credits.

In the world of religion, one of the great neglected actors, a man who had a marquee moment but then fell into obscurity, is the Rev. James Stoll, a Unitarian Universalist who died in 1994. Mr. Stoll, one of the first openly gay ministers in America, had a difficult life, and his demons seemed to follow him to an early grave.

But he was hugely responsible for introducing American churchgoers to gay rights. For those who support gay rights, he ought to be a hero; for those troubled by increased acceptance of homosexuality, he makes a vivid villain.

Mr. Stoll was born in 1936 in Connecticut. He was educated at Mount Hermon School, in Massachusetts, at San Francisco State University and, finally, at Starr King School for the Ministry, in Berkeley, Calif. After being ordained, he pastored a church in Kennewick, Wash., from 1962 until 1969. After leaving the church in Kennewick — church documents indicate that he was asked to resign — he moved back to the Bay Area.

In the words of Mr. Stoll’s friend Leland Bond-Upson, who in 2005 first delivered a sermon about him at a church in Petaluma, Calif., Mr. Stoll took a flat in the Eureka Valley neighborhood of San Francisco “with three others (me the draft counselor, Nick the cabinetmaker and Peter the communist revolutionary), and for a full year we four hosted an unending stream of young visitors, all come to look for America or something.”

Soon, in September 1969, Mr. Stoll drove Mr. Bond-Upson and two others in his Volkswagen Fastback to the La Foret conference center in Colorado Springs to attend a convention of about 100 college-age Unitarians.

“On the second or third night of the conference,” according to Mr. Bond-Upson, “after dinner, Jim got up to speak. He told us that he’d been doing a lot of hard thinking that summer. Jim told us he could no longer live a lie. He’d been hiding his nature — his true self — from everyone except his closest friends. ‘If the revolution we’re in means anything,’ he said, ‘it means we have the right to be ourselves, without shame or fear.’

“Then he told us he was gay, and had always been gay, and it wasn’t a choice, and he wasn’t ashamed anymore and that he wasn’t going to hide it anymore, and from now on he was going to be himself in public. After he concluded, there was a dead silence, then a couple of the young women went up and hugged him, followed by general congratulations. The few who did not approve kept their peace.”

Mr. Stoll was not the first openly gay minister. He had been preceded by at least one man, the Rev. Troy Perry, who the previous year had founded the Metropolitan Community Churches in Los Angeles. That denomination, which has straight members but has always specialized in ministry to queer communities, now claims 43,000 members in 22 countries.

But Mr. Stoll was a minister of an established denomination — a liberal one, often so diverse as to seem post-Christian, but nonetheless one with Christian roots. As such, he brought gay rights to the heterosexual Christian world. Over the next year, newly emboldened, Mr. Stoll wrote articles about gay rights and delivered guest sermons at several churches.

In July 1970, at their general assembly in Seattle, Unitarians passed a resolution condemning discrimination against homosexuals and bisexuals. Other churches soon liberalized, too. In 1972, for example, the United Church of Christ ordained an openly gay man, and today there are openly gay Episcopal priests and Lutheran ministers.

Having pioneered an important change in American Christianity, Mr. Stoll never returned to the ministry. In fact, it seems that he could not. According to letters kept at Harvard, sent in 1970 between church members and Unitarian officials, Mr. Stoll had been suspected of drug use and of inappropriate sexual advances toward young people in the Kennewick congregation. The circumstances of his departure made it unlikely he would find another pulpit.

Over the next 25 years, Mr. Stoll had a varied career. He worked as a substance abuse counselor, started a hospice on Maui, in Hawaii, and served as secretary of the San Francisco chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“He died on Dec. 8, 1994,” Mr. Bond-Upson said in his 2005 sermon, “a little short of age 59. He died not of AIDS, but of worn-out heart and lungs. He was never able to lose much weight, nor quit smoking. When it was known he was dying, a stream of friends came to say goodbye. Friends arrived from the A.C.L.U., from inner-city social services, from Hunters Point, from drug abuse treatment centers, from the ministry. Yet despite all this matchmaking, and though his romantic side often found expression, Jim never had for long the all-embracing love he longed for.”

Mr. Stoll left no descendants, but he had many heirs.

Celebrating Fifteen Years

This sermon won Kathleen the Interweave sermon contest, and she delivered it again
at the Interweave gathering at General Assembly in June 2000 (Nashville, TN).

CELEBRATING FIFTEEN YEARS!

College Station, TX, 26 March 2000
Rev. Kathleen Ellis

The Unitarian Universalist Association has been on record since 1970 as supporting the rights and worth of gays, lesbian, and bisexual persons.  But as recently as 1987, we became painfully aware of a great deal of unexamined and hurtful homophobia within our congregations.  That’s why this congregation spent so much time trying to educate ourselves about homosexuality and our very real discomfort around this issue.  We continue to pay attention to this because we are pushing against conventional wisdom, which we absorbed from the day we were born.  I know I did.

Back in 1972, Sidney Abbott and Barbara Love wrote a book with a great title: Sappho Was a Right-On Woman.  From a book of quotations, I found this gem from that book:  “If Lesbians were purple, none would be admitted to respected places.  But if all Lesbians suddenly turned purple today, society would be surprised at the number of purple people in high places.”

Audre Lorde was a writer who died of cancer eight years ago.  Here’s how she described herself in 1983:

I was born Black, and a woman.  I am trying to become the strongest person I can become to live the life I have been given and to help effect change toward a liveable future for this earth and for my children.  As a Black, lesbian, feminist, socialist, poet, mother of two (including one boy), and a member of an interracial couple, I usually find myself part of some group in which the majority defines me as deviant, difficult, inferior or just plain “wrong.”

From my membership in all of these groups I have learned that oppression and the intolerance of difference come in all shapes and sexes and colors and sexualities; and that among those of us who share the goals of liberation and a workable future for our children, there can be no hierarchies of oppression.

I have learned that sexism (a belief in the inherent superiority of one sex over all others and thereby its right to dominance) and heterosexism (a belief in the inherent superiority of one pattern of loving over all others and thereby its right to dominance) both arise from the same source as racism — a belief in the inherent superiority of one race over all others and thereby its right to dominance.

“Oh,” says a voice from the Black community, “but being Black is NORMAL!” Well, I and many Black people of my age can remember grimly the days when it didn’t used to be!…

… so long as we are divided because of our particular identities, we cannot join together in effective political action.

Within the lesbian community I am Black, and within the Black community I am a lesbian.  Any attack against Black people is a lesbian and gay issue, because I and thousands of other Black women are part of the lesbian community.  Any attack against lesbians and gays is a Black issue, because thousands of lesbians and gay men are Black.  There is no hierarchy of oppression.

Oppression is a heavy load for any person or group.  We have felt it ourselves as a minority religious faith.  Our vision is to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.  This vision has played out most often in our work to treat groups of people as human beings, such as people of color, the mentally ill, immigrants, and people with disabilities.  Today we celebrate our progress in treating gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people as human beings.  Today we celebrate with our local University [Texas A&M], the fifteenth anniversary of its formal recognition of a gay and lesbian student group.

Throughout the coming week there will be events on and off campus to celebrate this particular kind of diversity.  A&M is not exactly the most diverse school in the world, but a lot of people are working to highlight the diversity that is there, and to normalize differences among us.  Recognition of a gay and lesbian student group did not come easily; in fact, it was state mandated.  Still, it was a major step forward in building community for a specific group of people.

Why is this important?

Individuals who are identified as part of an inferior group share common experiences.  If you are bald in a world that takes pride in beautiful hair, you have an instant bond with other people who are bald.  Nowadays some people shave their heads on purpose, sometimes to defy convention or to look distinctive or even to save time and shampoo!  But baldness and left-handedness, for example, do not typically lead to discrimination, hatred, and even violence.

An even stronger social convention is in the clothes we wear.  Men don’t wear dresses, do they?  Women don’t wear the so-called “pants in the family,” do they? When they do, they are subject to possible criticism at the very least and maybe even condemnation.  Tonight millions of people will tune in to the Academy Awards.  Beautiful, thin people will parade up to the stage dressed “to the nines” in their tuxedos and low-cut dresses and perfect makeup, while the rest of us poor slobs will look shabby by comparison.

When I was in grade school, I was not allowed to wear pants unless the temperature dipped well below freezing.  Today, infants are still dressed according to their sex, and I haven’t seen any of you guys in dresses and high heels!  But I’d be mighty surprised if you did.  My spouse tells me that a boy at First Unitarian Universalist Church wore dresses to church (but not to school) at least until the eighth grade.  People were more interested in his ideas and how he treated other people than in what he wore.

There is a danger in dividing people into groups because, it tends to ignore the range of personality and behavior within those groups.  Individuals who are hated because of their group identification can suffer alone or they can join with other members of the group.  They share their experiences of oppression and ways to resist oppression.  They share a struggle for survival.  They share the experience of community as a source of hope and understanding.

Audre Lorde was in so many minority categories she could be hated by just about anyone.  All of the categories helped define who she was and they also placed her in multiple circles where you and I might find ourselves, too.  For example, she and I were both born female and so were at least half of you and at least half of the world’s population.  But the only thing we all have in common is biological.  The way we express our femaleness is a function of gender expectation in the culture as well as our own unique personality and style.

My point is that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people share some things in common, but THEY are a diverse collection of individuals, too.  Christine Smith shares my whiteness, my femaleness and my vocation.  She is ordained in the United Church of Christ.  But she is also a professor of preaching and worship at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities.  One of her books on preaching was assigned reading in my own preaching class.  She is also a lesbian.

Smith is interested in lifting up diverse voices that are still dominated by Euro-American voices in the world of preaching.  She sees this as an issue of justice.  Until we begin to hear different voices, we cannot hope to build bridges of understanding among us.  Speaking as a lesbian, Smith identifies three liberation movements within the wide range of the lesbian and gay community.

The first movement is for personal and social equal rights.  The idea is to integrate homosexuals into mainstream culture just as heterosexuals have come to expect.  The emphasis is on the sacred quality of each person.  Justice means treating everyone with equality.

The second movement is toward sexual liberation.  The primary issue is freedom of expression in every area of our relational and sexual lives.  Justice means treating people and their sexuality as inherently good.  I am reminded here of Holly Near’s song entitled “Simply Love.”  The lyrics begin, “Why does my love make you shift restless in your chair / and leave you in despair / It’s simply love — my love for a woman.”  She makes the point that it is war and hatred that should rouse our indignation, not affection and love.

The third liberation movement for gays and lesbians is a movement toward radical social and religious transformation.  The idea is to challenge our heterosexist social system, culture, and theology and to challenge our idea about appropriate roles for men and women.  Justice means freedom from gender constraints.

You may or may not identify with any of these three movements:  equal rights, sexual liberation, or radical change.  But all of us are affected by progress in these areas as well as the backlash against it.  There seems to be a bi-coastal battle for legal recognition of same sex marriage.  I, for one, want to encourage long term commitment between loving adults.

On a local level, I have a dream that friendship, affection, and love for another will be a cause for celebration.  As the Rev. Mark Belletini puts it, “Let love change everything:  ordinary daily bread into the bread of life, need into abundance, friendship into communion, and fear into praise.”  Parents love their children of either sex.  Brothers and sisters love each other — or don’t — because of their personality, not their sex.

And what about us, now that we have been formally recognized as a Welcoming Congregation? By way of partial response, let me share one story told by the Rev.  John Thornburg, pastor at Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas.  It was Mother’s Day, and prayers were offered for mothers, for women without children, and for mothers who have not been a source of strength for their children.

When this last prayer was offered, three women turned in their seats and gently placed their hands on one young man seated nearby who was weeping quietly.  It seems that a few months before, in some measure because his church family affirmed him both as a child of God and as a gay man, he had come out to his parents.  They cut him out of their lives instantly and took such actions as returning, unopened, his letters and Christmas gifts.  The church then became his spiritual refuge in the depth of his sorrow and pain.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

So long as good people are condemned for who they are as human beings, we must offer refuge.

So long as religion is used as a tool for hatred, we must offer refuge.

Though we welcome all people who share our approach to religion, our special welcome to socially marginalized and hated people is right and just.  Songwriter Fred Small wrote a song to a child called “Everything Possible.”  The chorus goes like this:

You can be anybody you want to be
You can love whomever you will

You can travel any country where your heart leads
And know I will love you still
You can live by yourself, you can gather friends around
You can choose one special one
And the only measure of your words and your deeds
Will be the love you leave behind when you’re done.

May our words and our deeds be signs of love and justice.

Amen.

Gene Navias

Eugene Barnett Navias (1928-2014)

Offered by Rev. Judy Welles
UURMaPA Conferences, February and October, 2019

“Gene” Navias  was born on March 18, 1928 to devout Unitarians Dr. Louis Navias and Adelaide Gant Navias.  He graduated from St.  Lawrence University with a Bachelor of Arts in 1949 and from the Theological School of St. Lawrence with a Bachelor of Divinity in 1951.

He was ordained to the ministry by the First Unitarian Church of Cleveland, OH in 1951.  It was during that settlement that he “learned” he was gay, at the age of 23, but of course he remained closeted for fear of not only losing his job, but being drummed out of the ministry.  In a personal interview with his niece-by-marriage, Jennifer Hamlin Navias (who is a colleague of ours), he said “I tried to pass for straight, acting as butch as I could, but I must not have been at all convincing.  As a Unitarian, I went to the old May Meetings held yearly in Boston.  I cruised the watering spots and discovered my colleagues at the Napoleon and the Punch Bowl.  What a relief.  There was a little band of us, all living double lives.  We met, shared stories and gave one another needed support and advice on how to cope.  We were all we had and we needed one another.  We knew that the Unitarian Department of Ministry was death on gays.”

He was called to two other churches before serving as Religious Education Field Consultant to the UUA from 1963 to 1982, then Director of the Religious Education Department of the UUA from 1982 to 1993.  When he decided to apply for that position, he went to Gene Pickett, then UUA President, and said “There’s something you should know about me, and so I’m telling you that I’m gay.”  Pickett replied “Well, other people have told me that they think you’re coming out, but I’ve never heard it from you.”  Navias answered, “I think it’s important that you hear it from me,” and Gene Pickett responded, “Well, I can tell you that it doesn’t matter to me.”  In Navias’s words, “What an ally! That was extraordinary.”[1]

In 2001, he was chosen by his peers to give the 50-year address at Ministry Days.  On that occasion, he said “There was no way I could be openly gay in 1953.  The UUA shipped queers out fast… But I wanted to be a minister, and I hit the closet running.  I was actively uncelebate for 25 years until the liberation movement generated by Stonewall, the UUA resolutions were passed, and UUA President Gene Pickett affirmed my right to be me.”[2]

He served as associate minister to Arlington Street Church of Boston, MA after his service to the UUA, from 1993 to 1999.  When he received the Distinguished Service Award in 2005, he spoke about the Gay Pride March that had just happened in Boston, saying “At that moment, my hopes for the world began to be restored…  That this remnant could make its voice heard and make its voice for freedom and justice be heard.”[3]

Ever the religious educator, Gene was a huge proponent of LREDA.  All the way back in 1967, LREDA recognized the need for good sexuality education in our RE programs.  The first sexuality education program of the UUA was published in 1971.  In a published interview titled “How AYS Saved My Life,” of the topic then called “homosexuality,” he said, “[AYS] held that same-sex affection, attraction and expression are natural to human beings.  It championed the rights of gays and lesbians to fair and equal treatment in society and before the law.  AYS was a landmark program in its openness, its frankness, its keen sense of justice, and its explicit information, in regard to all the topics of sexuality, but especially in the area of homosexuality it led and still leads the way.”

He continued, “The program was wonderful for me.  As the person in charge of all the training and demonstration, I became liberalized and liberated myself.  ABOUT YOUR SEXUALITY helped me become comfortable with my own sexuality and that of others.  I believe that AYS has been important… for the liberalizing impact it has had on the whole UUA.  AYS produced a cadré of informed and liberated delegates who went to General Assemblies and voted support for gay and lesbian unions, for the Office of Gay and Lesbian Concerns, for gay and lesbian clergy, and all the rest.” [4]

In the late 1970’s, Gene collaboratively developed the Renaissance Program, a religious education training program, and in 1981, he developed the UUA’s Accreditation Program for Directors of Religious Education.  He edited the UUA’s Religious Education AIDS packet in the late 1980’s.  During the ten years that he served as Director of the UUA’s Religious Education Department, participation in religious education grew by nearly forty percent.

Gene successfully united music with religious education.  He authored new lyrics to well-known tunes, such as “John Murray Sailed Over the Ocean,” as a way of teaching Unitarian Universalist history and theology.  He served on a team that studied the feasibility of the first Unitarian Universalist hymnal, and organized a program of narrations and hymns for the 1992 UUA General Assembly titled “Singing – Shouting – Celebrating:  200 Years of Universalism.”

He had a wide range of interests, and succeeded in many different areas of life.  Quite musical, he was an accomplished pianist and a tenor soloist.  He collected church music; his collection is now housed at Arlington Street Church.  Gene also enjoyed traveling, and with his partner, Jim, ventured to Austria, the Czech Republic, England, Mexico, and Spain.  Additionally, he was interested in antiquing; his mother was an avid antique collector, and she brought Gene along in her hunts.  When Gene entered adulthood, he developed his own interest in antiquing, and he soon couldn’t pass by an antique store without entering.

On a more personal note, his niece Jennifer recounts, “One of the first times I met Gene and his [first] partner Stan (at a family Thanksgiving gathering around 1995), I remember asking Gene how he and Stan had met.  He laughed in that way that he had, and with a glimmer in his eye said to me something along the lines of “You know… when you ask a gay man where he met his partner, you just never know what kind of an answer you will get.  It might not be family appropriate.” All at once, with that simple statement, he let me know that I had asked a question that was REALLY heteronormative, and that it was all right; he was willing to give me a little guidance.  There was not an ounce of defensiveness or anger in his answer and he let me know where I had stepped in it without leaving me feeling covered in crap.  Gene was a master at making people feel welcome.”[5]

Gene died on August 17, 2014 at the age of 86, leaving a generous bequest to UURMaPA, which we have used to enhance our endowment fund.

His niece Jennifer gets the last word here: “In my mind when I think about how a Universalist could best live out their faith of universal salvation and how all humans are worthy, I have only to think of Gene Navias.”


[1] From an interview conducted by Celeste DeRoche, May 19, 2009, currently housed at the Andover-Harvard Theological Library Archives and available only for personal research at this time (2/19).

[2] UUMA News, Autumn, 2001

[3] UUA web site, https://www.uua.org/giving/awards/distinguishedservice/recipients/navias

[4] “How AYS Saved My Life,” provenance unknown; Sarah Gibb Milspaugh might know. I received it from Jennifer Navias.

[5] Personal e-mail, Jennifer Navias to me, Feb. 12, 2019

Our UU Rainbow History

UU Fellowship of Salina, Kansas
September 15, 2019

Rev. Diane Miller

Change happens.  (This is an ancient religious truth).  Changes are taking place all the time, outside of our control.  This is the nature of the universe.  Intentional change in a chosen direction can happen, individually and in public, if we are effective in making it happen.  One of the primary features of being a faith community is to effect transformation.  Directed change is not easy.

How did our Unitarian Universalist congregations go from being homophobic or just “tolerant” of same-sex relationships some 50 years ago, to being Welcoming Congregations and leading advocates of equal rights and marriage equality?

Today I want to reflect on the changes since that night when transwomen at the Stonewall Inn bar in New York City fought back against arrests.  I’ll tell you about a project of collecting some of the history.  I will include some of my experiences in ministry as we addressed change.  And I want to know more about your role as a Fellowship in the Equality Movement in Kansas.

I am serving as President of a voluntary organization, the Unitarian Universalist Retired Ministers and Partners Association (UURMaPA). We number around 900 ministers and partners, who are active to varying degrees.  We hold two conferences a year, fall and winter, and have an annual gathering in June at the UUA General Assembly.  After two years as Vice President, I became President this past July, and will serve a two-year term.  Retirement, as most people discover, can be a busy time.

Some years ago one of our UURMaPA members proposed that we do a year of focus on our LGBTQ+ history.  That is another acronym you probably know, and it refers to lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer.  Our understanding of gender and sexual identities is expanding, so the PLUS indicates those emerging identities, such as Intersex and Asexual or Pansexual.  This proposal became our UU Rainbow History Project, looking at the 50 years between Stonewall and now.  We held a conference this past February in Texas, and a second one is coming up this October in Connecticut.  Speakers and panelists noted their personal experiences, as we want to capture the history before those who lived it are gone.  Much of the change has happened in the realm of personal experiences, not institutional decisions, so the history is held by people.

Though we are a volunteer-run group, this project was big enough that we hired a retired minister, the Rev. Dorothy Emerson, to coordinate it and move it forward.  We were all stunned and grieved when Dorothy died unexpectedly in the midst of the project.  As a group of retired ministers, we are keenly aware of our mortality.  Awareness makes the loss of a dear friend and colleague no less sorrowful.  This work of capturing experiences has urgency.

With support from a grant from the UU Funding Panel, the project was launched.  UURMaPA has created a website with individual histories and a timeline.  We are selecting an editor for a book.  Rather than retell the stories that others have contributed, today I’ll speak from my own experience.

I am cis-gendered, meaning that my gender expression matches the sex I was assigned at birth; and I’m heterosexual, meaning all the loves of my life have been men.  I have been an ally for LGBTQ+ causes throughout my ministry.  Being privileged by being white and living a conventional-looking life as a wife, mother and grandmother, it is not a risk for me to speak up for gay rights or lesbian issues.  In fact, in the early years, that made me look prophetic and inclusive, whereas a gay or lesbian or trans minister risked getting fired.  One gay colleague told me that he never once preached about gay issues, yet he would be told that he talked about it all the time from the pulpit.  Just being a gay man preaching was a statement to the congregation, and some of them weren’t comfortable with it.

There have always been LGBTQ+ ministers in our ranks.  In the old days they were simply quiet about it, disguising relationships they did have, or foregoing being in love at all.  And the same was true of most church members.

In 1978, after graduating from Harvard Divinity School, I was invited to be the Assistant Minister in San Francisco, serving a large urban congregation.  One of my initiatives was to invite Holly Near to do a concert in the sanctuary.  To me she was a feminist singer and composer.  Holly Near was and is also a lesbian icon.  The concert sold out, SRO, and the UU church was then viewed as a place open and welcoming to Lesbians and gays.

In my second year, the Senior Minister departed for another call, and I stepped into the role of Interim Senior Minister.  I was just 29, still rather inexperienced, and needed a minister to work with me.  We formed a search committee and learned that a recent graduate of Starr King School was interested and available.  Mark Belletini was interviewed and was our obvious choice.  Mark was an out gay man.  So was the layperson chairing the Search Committee, so there was no issue there.  I was thrilled to have Mark take on the Assistant Minister role.  I was not concerned about Mark being gay.  I was concerned that the compensation being offered was too low, and worried that he would turn us down.  But he joined the team.  As it turns out, that was the first time an out gay man was chosen for a ministry position.

Mark and I in turn selected two students from Starr King to be interns:  Barbara Pescan, who was partnered with a female UU minister, and Mark DeWolfe, a gay preacher’s kid who had grown up UU and was one of the more brilliant people I’ve ever known.  The four of us had a brief, shining, glorious time working together, and leading the church through its clergy transition.  We were not successful because of being gay, straight, and lesbian.  We were successful because each one of us was a gifted minister and leader.  As a team we held the church through horrible public events, including the murders of Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk; and the killings of Congressman Leo Ryan and hundreds of followers of The People’s Temple in Jonestown, Guyana.

One of the issues in change is to destroy invisible barriers.  Because Belletini, Pescan and DeWolfe had opportunities to do outstanding ministry in a large, visible congregation, they were three of the first of our “out” ministers to be called by congregations.  They had been given a chance, a door through which to enter, a platform from which to be themselves as clergy.  Even so, there have been many times when a minister’s identity has been a barrier in their work.  We have been slower in affirming transgender ministers and leaders.  We still have a long way to go.

Someone in the San Francisco congregation at that time asked me why I was an advocate for homosexuals.  I recall thinking that I could identify with gay men because I, too, was attracted to men.  I grew up with sisters I loved dearly, and was a feminist, so I could identify with women who loved women.  It was a limited perspective, but I felt that love is love.  I was engaged and about to marry a man.  I could only imagine the pain of being denied the chance to be in love, or to be denied my call to ministry because of my love and my wish to share my life with another.

Personal connections with colleagues, classmates, and parishioners made me aware of the discrimination against LGBTQ+ ministers.  There was also widespread stereotyping of women in ministry, which I experienced first hand, and of people of color.  It was a justice issue everywhere in our culture.  In our UU congregations and our association we could do something about it.  We could change things, intentionally.

I was called to The First Church in Belmont, Massachusetts in 1981.  I left San Francisco just as the first awareness of a mysterious killing disease was dawning in the medical community.  Mark DeWolfe, one of our team of four, completed seminary and was called to a congregation in Canada.  Mark was diagnosed with AIDS not long into his new ministry.  I knew Mark occasionally visited his family in Massachusetts, so I invited him to preach in Belmont.  Mark delivered a brilliant sermon about living with the awareness of impending death.  It was still early in the AIDS crisis, and no one knew for sure how the illness could be caught or avoided or prevented.

In the receiving line, the congregation shook hands with Mark and his partner, and they hugged Mark.  I fell more in love with that congregation at that moment, when Mark was welcomed and recognized for his stellar ministry.  Sadly, Mark died young, before there was much in the way of treatment for the ravages of AIDS.

In the 1980s the UUA took some steps that addressed justice and awareness.  The UUA established an Office of Gay Affairs.  Several affinity organizations formed.  The UU sexuality education program, then called AYS, gave people some language and truthfulness about the range of human sexuality.  The Welcoming Congregation curriculum addressed congregational attitudes.  More ministers and leaders came out.  Some transferred from more restrictive traditions.  The broader culture was changing, and we were also.

When I was in San Francisco, I officiated at many weddings.  I was bothered that straight couples were the only ones who could marry legally.  I considered refusing to conduct weddings as a justice statement.  But I caved because I wasn’t paid enough to live on, and wedding fees made it possible to pay rent and Divinity School loans.  I was open to doing ceremonies of union for same sex couples, but few requests came along.  Years later, in the new millennium, I refused to sign marriage licenses until equal marriage became law.  The couples always had ways to get their licenses signed, but in the meantime, they became aware of their straight privilege under the law.

I know that this Fellowship took a leading role in LGNTQ+ rights in Salina, with the passage of a non-discrimination ordinance.  UUFS advocated for Marriage Equality in Kansas.  I’ve asked Thea Nietfield to write up her recollections of that time, when she was the minister here.  I invite you to write up any memories or milestones or actions you remember in the transformation of this Fellowship into being a welcoming group, and as advocates.

This work for justice has continued over all four decades of my ministry.  It continued when I was serving my last church, the First Religious Society in Carlisle, Massachusetts.  For context, Carlisle is a small town of five thousand.  It has a thriving UU congregation established in the colonial era.  There was a member of the congregation who expressed deeply homophobic views at the church, and in the local paper.  For a long time she was tolerated, like a nutty aunt to be ignored.  But it became clear that she was causing harm to the church and to the LGBTQ+ parishioners.  After a lengthy process, she was asked to leave the church.  She came for a final Sunday and stood up during joys and concerns to say goodbye.  But she launched into her diatribes against the OWL program.  I told her she needed to stop and sit down, but she kept talking.  Then I noticed the choir, in the back, stand up and turn their backs.  The congregation joined them, in a wave from back to front.  Soon virtually everyone was standing with their backs to the vitriol, refusing to listen.  The talking ended, and the homophobic church member left.  It had been a spontaneous response from a fed-up congregation.  From deep in their DNA had come a spontaneous shunning, a rejection of hateful utterances.

A few years later in that same community, two women who had built a home and an organic farm together found that someone had come into their home and left an anti-gay leaflet.  They felt very vulnerable.  A parishioner and I talked about this, and wrote a letter to the local paper, saying the church would be giving out rainbow flags that Sunday, and people could stop by all week and pick them up.  The flags began appearing on mailboxes all over town.  When they were stolen, people replaced them.  We put vases out on the front steps, and people pulled up to get flags.  We handed them out at the town parade, and at the Strawberry Festival.  Children danced around waving them happily.  The little town of Carlisle looked like a Pride celebration.

As a tradition we often speak about transforming our spirits, our souls, our lives, our relationships.  We have transformed ourselves as a movement, enriching our awareness of human experience, opening doors to the talented lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people called to our ministry, affirming their partners, their families, their stories, their lives.  We know we are all connected, and that injustice toward any is injustice toward all.

The work for justice is ongoing.  We hand it off to a new generation, trusting that our congregations will be filled with more love, more diversity, more hope than ever before.  The Beloved Community is a blessing, and we aspire to live with abundant love.

AMEN.

Mark Mosher Dewolfe

Mark Mosher DeWolfe (1953 – 1988)

Offered by Rev. Diane Miller
UURMAPA Conferences, February and October, 2019

His name was Mark Mosher DeWolfe.  Born in 1953, he lived until 1988, when AIDS ended his life at the age of 35.

I knew Mark, admired him, loved him.  He was a Starr King student who did his internship at the First Unitarian Society in San Francisco in 1979-1980.  I was the supervising minister.  Mark was born a “PK” and a multigenerational Universalist.  He knew our UU history, and knew his way around church life.  I learned from him.

We worked as a team of ministers: Mark Belletini, Barbara Pescan, Mark DeWolfe, and I.  It was a magical year, still remembered as a high point by that congregation.  DeWolfe was young, brilliant, creative, energetic, handsome, compassionate, witty, verbal, and gay.  He once described himself as a “hurricane.”

Mark Belletini wrote:  “Mark was the most ‘alive’ person I knew at that time.  Alert, hilarious, passionate, fierce, brilliant, a maestro of languages, a true Canadian eventually, and a major theologian of Canadian Contextual Theology…  he was a pioneer there too! I have rarely loved someone as much as I loved him…”

Barbara Pescan wrote:  “I remember his encyclopedic capacity for ‘nuggets’ about Unitarian Universalist historical figures…  His wit, and his enjoyment of wit.  I can still call up and hear his hiccup of a laugh.  He was deeply kind.  It’s the laugh, and his expression of helpless pleasure at being so amused that I remember with my own joy.”

Mark studied theater at Tufts before preparing for ministry at Starr King.  After graduation, he was a summer minister at Toronto First Unitarian, and then was hired by the South Peel, Mississauga, Congregation.  He was the first openly gay minister in Canada.  He was accomplished in all the arts of ministry.  He supported the fledgling Canadian UU Historical Society.  He wrote the hymn text for, “Sing Out Praises for the Journey,” which we sang yesterday.  Mark became well-known in Toronto for running a very active support group for young men dying of AIDS.

In 1982, while he was serving in Missisauga, I invited him to guest preach in my congregation in Belmont, MA.  He delivered a moving sermon about living after his diagnosis with AIDS.  One point he made was that he would die in a world that was still marked by “racism, sexism, patriarchy, militarism, and homophobia.”  At first he was depressed about this, but then realized it was not his task alone to save the world — that each of us is part of a community that will carry on.

At that time the retrovirus had not been identified, and people were not sure if it could be transmitted like a cold, or through contact, or what.  My parishioners filed through the receiving line, deeply moved by hearing Mark, giving him hugs and handshakes and words of appreciation.  I loved them for their embrace of my beloved colleague.

In 1992 Mark’s congregation published a selection of his writings, titled Time to Live.  In the preface his parents wrote:  “He demonstrated a deep sensitivity to the feelings of others, a reverence for all living things, and a penetrating curiosity about the meaning of experience and relationships.”

His name was Mark Mosher DeWolfe.

Recollections of Conducting Same-Sex Weddings in New Paltz, New York, March 2004

I knew that New Paltz Mayor Jason West had been performing same-sex weddings, but I learned of the ceremonies officiated by Rev. Katherine Greenleaf and Rev. Dawn Sangrey at a UUMA New York Metro District Chapter cluster meeting in Mt. Kisco, March 9, 2004.  Kay told us about the ceremonies and the legal entanglements that ensued.  I immediately volunteered to join Kay and Dawn at the next weddings.  Motivated by the cause and by my concern for Kay and Dawn’s legal troubles, I believed New York authorities needed to know that there was a long line of religious leaders who were prepared to step in and officiate same-sex weddings in New Paltz.

That week I checked in with Frank Hall, Senior  Minister at the Unitarian Church in Westport (CT), where I was a community minister, and contacted the organizing body of the same-sex weddings, New Paltz Equality Initiative, confirming that I would join Kay and Dawn in officiating weddings on Saturday, March 13.  Charles Clement reviewed plans for the day with me and said pro-bono attorneys would be available to us.  I talked with my family, saying that I was unsure how things would go on Saturday.  I printed out MapQuest directions for the 97-mile drive, gathered the ceremony text, my robe and stole, and then settled down to prepare my mind and spirit.

It rained a lot that week, but on Saturday morning the sky was a brilliant spring blue.  On the two hour drive to New Paltz, I entertained myself by thinking what books I’d request if I were arrested and thrown in jail.  I thought the chances of that were small, but I decided that if charged, I would refuse bail.  I didn’t believe the State of New York would tolerate the sight of one religious leader after another going to jail for officiating at weddings.

I arrived at the bed and breakfast that served as the staging area and waded into the gleeful crowd of organizers, members of the press, the couples to be wed, and their family and friends.  The energy was high, and the couples were giddy; I listened to the stories of couples who had been together for 22 years, 14 years, and 11 years.  A gay couple introduced me to the older woman standing beside them, crying.  She grasped my hand and thanked me for being there and said, “I love my son and his partner.  If he had to wait many more years to marry, would I even be alive to witness it?”

I met my pro-bono attorney, Russell Gioiella, who assured me he would accompany me throughout the day, and be available to me in the future.  I was grateful for his presence, warmth, expertise, and his skills as a chauffeur.  It is hard to move a crowd, and it took a while for several hundred people to re-assemble at the New Paltz Green (or park in the center of town).

The couples, their families, and I crossed sheets of plywood put down to protect our dress shoes from the mud.  Five or six of the couples and I ascended a few stairs to stand in the small pavilion.  A large gathering of other couples, family, friends, and supporters stood at the bottom of the stairs.  Before the first ceremony, I welcomed them and let them know that I was here to celebrate their love and to acknowledge the relationship that already existed.  I said that I didn’t believe we were breaking the law, but instead healing an injustice.  If there were protestors present, I don’t remember them.

One might think that officiating at a ceremony for five or six couples at a time would be impersonal, but that was not our experience.  We felt our circle was a tight-knit group of supporters who understood what it had taken for each of us to be there that day.  We all rejoiced for each couple who said, “I do.”  After the ceremonies concluded, we convened at a local restaurant for a celebratory luncheon where I was presented with a New Paltz Equality Initiative t-shirt (which I have to this day).

The memories and messages of thanks sustained me over the next couple of weeks of newspaper, TV, and radio interviews.  Many New York officials warned me that I would be charged with “solemnizing any marriage between any parties without a license,” but that never happened.  Many other religious leaders and I continued to officiate at same-sex weddings in New Paltz, but to the best of my knowledge, none but the first two, Kay and Dawn, were ever charged.

That felt like a victory, as did the ultimately successful fight for equality.  When New York legally recognized same-sex marriage on July 24, 2011, I heard from several of the couples from New Paltz asking if I would help them to make their union legal at last.

My Journey From Homophobia

A sermon by Rev. Jaco B. ten Hove (Last preached at Paint Branch UU Church, Adelphi, MD, January 8, 2006)

QUOTE: My own parents made no conscious attempt to teach me rigid sex roles, yet both they and I lived in the heterosexual box that was far larger, and more deeply formative, than either they or their children could realize. —Carter Heyward, Episcopal priest and feminist theologian

CHORUS from Everything Possible (by Fred Small):
You can be anybody you want to be; you can love whomever you will. You can travel any country where your heart leads, and know I will love you still. You can live by yourself; you can gather friends around; you can choose one special one. And the only measure of your words and your deeds Will be the love you leave behind when you’re done.

SERMON: My Journey From Homophobia — Rev. Jaco B. ten Hove

It doesn’t feel like a particularly dramatic story, my movement away from the homophobia of younger years, but I appreciate where it’s taken me, and maybe the telling can be helpful to others. It does have everything to do with Unitarian Universalism and our collective religious path in this direction.

Of course, my journey may not be a dramatic evolution for me because I am thoroughly one of the majority types in our land: a tall, white, hetero, EuroAmerican male. There’s been a red carpet of privilege laid out in front of me, which I may have rejected and avoided in some ways, but it’s still there, allowing me a kind of security I now know just isn’t part of life for many others.

But with or without a dramatic odyssey, I think I’ve become increasingly open to the diversity of possibilities on the gender continuum, affirming them all, even as I sometimes struggle to keep up with the appropriate “best practices,” if you will.

And I am certainly aware that there are far too many folks who look a lot like me who have not yet moved many inches at all in an inclusive direction, who even aggressively hold onto narrow values and give them expression in ways that demean and deny the humanity of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and/or Transgender persons. I would name such behavior as evil.

It can be outright evil—insidious, vicious, bigoted, obvious. And it can be subtle evil, even without any intention to offend—behavior born of near-sighted fear or inexperience that nonetheless oppresses. It all adds up to noxious fumes inhaled daily by LGBT persons in America, with even a pungent whiff sometimes here in our congregation. And it hurts. So we are called to do what we can to alter such conditions and improve the odds for a culture and world which affirm the right of all people to self-determination in matters of conscience and identity.

There are numerous kinds of oppressions in our culture—probably in most cultures—all of which deserve scrutiny and reform. Throughout the progressive religious history of Unitarian Universalism, this been one of our calling cards: scrutiny and reform. We activate our human reasoning abilities and set about “piercing evil’s new disguises,” as described by hymnodist Brian Wren [#23, Bring Many Names]. That said, our religious forebears have also dragged their feet too frequently, distressingly so.

For it is true, evil abides and evolves. Yes, it hides anew in contemporary cloaks and it can also be exposed anew with growing intention, awareness and conviction. There is, even in the face of continuing harshness, a steady stream of heartening advances that provide great hope, as does the fact that I—a tall, white, hetero, EuroAmerican male— have traveled the distance I have in my own posture. Once classically homophobic, and still with my own continuing weaknesses, I am now proud to at least be considered an ally of LGBT persons.

But don’t take my word for this. I was happily surprised by the UU congregation I first served in the Seattle suburbs, when, at the end of my decade with them, I was publicly presented with a clear glass plaque by one of the leaders of the Welcoming Congregation Committee there. In etched lettering, it declares me “an honorary gay man.” I felt like saying, “I am not worthy!” But I was very honored.

I’m not as conscious about this realm as I’d like to be, but I’m actively trying to find a new equilibrium around gender assumptions, so that I can honor the authentic journeys of all people, including those who don’t fit into the mainstream.

Speaking of the mainstream, I was raised in it—in a New Jersey suburb during the 1950s and 60s. I attended the full scope of a single Unitarian church school there and as a teenager, I was impacted by many of that era’s ambitious socio-political campaigns, often led by people from my congregation. None of them, however, addressed the dominant heterosexism that unconsciously pervaded my life. (Hetereosexism is “beliefs and practices based on heterosexuality as the only acceptable and healthy sexual orientation” [from the Welcoming Congregation Handbook].) As is true with many biases, I grew up homophobic without really knowing anything about it.

It was not gays, per se, as much as the possibility of gayness that got my attention early on. I had virtually zero experience with any gender diversity—at least that I was aware of —but I recall participating in various adolescent schoolyard remarks aimed not just at boys of allegedly dubious maleness, but at any boy who could be targeted for any reason. A fierce questioning of his sexuality was designed to diminish him, or get a rise out of him, or establish us as better because we were able to dominate.

I understood this sad process because, as a gangly and decidedly un-streetwise kid, I was also regularly targeted myself. Until 6th grade I lived in a pretty rough neighborhood and I tried to learn a lesson many boys still learn: that the best way to avoid being abused was to abuse others first. It was not in my nature, however, and it clashed with the values I was taught in church school, so I was pretty bad at it, and remained mostly on the receiving end of bullies. But along the way I certainly internalized a hostility to “gayness” and fostered a persistent fear of being associated therewith, even well into high school.

Not only was this widespread homophobic behavior accepted by nearby adults, it was encouraged and modeled by them, especially gym teachers—who may also suffer from unfair stereotyping, but in my experience they contributed a lot to the harsh, homophobic atmosphere of the schoolyard. In retrospect it seems so primitive, but it still goes on. The evil abides. And it hurts.

My essential education away from this oppressive posturing corresponds in time with the advent of UU General Assembly Resolutions affirming the dignity of gays and lesbians. (The first such declaration came in 1970, a year after I graduated from high school.) In my young adulthood, and primarily in UU camp and youth conference settings, I heard of and watched a considerably different attitude than I had learned in school. I was unaware of the UU Resolution, per se, but the inclusive philosophy it announced was demonstrated by a growing number of people around me.

I was not directly attached to a congregation during most of my young adulthood (a sadly familiar situation), so UUism for me was camps and conferences, mostly in the Northeast. In these vibrant communities I worked with and became close to people who were—gasp!—gay, lesbian, and bisexual. Often our relationship was well under way before I discovered that their orientation was different than I had assumed.

At first when this would happen—my “discovery”—I was taken aback and hesitant. But being a good homebred UU, I applied my well-taught reasoning ability and concluded that it just wasn’t anything that should change our friendship, or lessen my respect for their work. I gradually came to understand that there were all kinds of gays and lesbians, quite reflective of the vast variety in the rest of us. Eventually I figured out that assuming anyone was heterosexual was a very limiting mistake.

But Reasoning is not Behaving. I could make internal philosophical adjustments fine; it was a more daunting task to change my own deeply conditioned and stereotypical responses. I may be rarely surprised anymore to learn of another’s different gender identity, but I still find myself assuming most people I meet are heterosexual, even when there may be no real evidence one way or the other.

And actually, it isn’t “one way or the other,” anyway. There is a broad gender continuum, with lots of possible locations for people to be in order to be fully themselves. This realm of realization—that there are more than two genders, for instance—has been a large leap for me, and I’m sure I still don’t have it all down. But I’m trying and I feel like I’m growing in the right direction, at least, which is important.

Because I want to be more a part of the solution than the problem. And if the problem is oppression of sexual minorities, part of the solution is for individuals like me to foster an appreciative inclusivity that supports all people to be fully themselves without fear of rejection because of their identity.

I attribute my relative advances in this direction to two general activities. One is my willing openness to consider the perspective of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and/or Transgender persons. I’ve tried to read about and listen to their stories and their teachings. The courageous people who have stepped up and spoken out have my great respect, not to mention gratitude.

I remember some years back, when I was finally ready to approach the transgender concept, I did some reading, okay, but I didn’t want it to be just an academic study. So at our large, annual UU General Assembly gatherings each June, I looked for and attended all the workshops I could find that addressed transgender issues, especially panels that featured testimonials, and this was extremely helpful.

But perhaps my most powerful personal experience was early in 1997, when (spouse and co-minister) Barbara and I were on sabbatical and teaching a practicum class at Starr King School for (UU) Ministry (my alma mater in Berkeley, CA). Halfway through the course, one of the less effective students in the class, who would often be late and unresponsive, declared that she was now a he and asked the Starr King community for support, which came readily.

We noticed right away that he instantly transformed into an A student, essentially going quickly to the head of the class. His participation and comments and written work were suddenly excellent, and we came to understand that the change in gender allowed him to be so much more fully who he was that he could relax and concentrate better. Without the inner conflict draining “her,” he was able to bring his natural skills to the fore.

Then I learned another important thing or two during the year we spent in Colorado as interim ministers. A male-to-female transsexual was on the search committee that brought us to that congregation and she was very willing to tell about her experiences and struggles. She saw her role as an educator, a spokesperson who could help others understand that culture and its issues. She was generous and gracious in helping us know a lot more about what life was like for her and her friends—such as painful rejection by family, difficulty getting and keeping decent jobs, the importance of others in the transgender community, and the great sadnesses therein.

Largely because of her impact on us, we decided to host a December holiday party for the relatively small, but significant transgender community active at or connected to the church, many of whom had no family with whom to celebrate the season. She helped invite folks and we made sure a board member was also present, since, as interim ministers, we were not going to be around there more than that year. At one point we asked those who came to tell us some of their stories and for a couple hours, amid egg nog and evergreens, our living room throbbed with very stirring narratives.

But one of their transsexual friends who was also active in the congregation would not come, and we discovered she had a very different attitude than the educator from our search committee. This was a woman who came to church every Sunday and yet worked as a man elsewhere in the city during the week. Each identity was separate and she didn’t want to talk about it at all. She just wanted to be related to at church as a woman, which she was.

So a very important lesson was driven home to me—again. Much as I had already come to know that gay and lesbian people were just as varied in their attitudes and stories as any other set of people, so was there great diversity within the transgender community. And I realized I should question or at least test my assumptions at almost every turn.

This sounds, now, rather elementary: people are different, even in minority groups—duh! But until I had some actual relationships, first with gays, lesbians and bisexuals, and then with transsexuals, it was not very real to me. Once I knew faces and stories and heard first hand about the trials and joys of these diverse and challenging paths, I had to change. I had to add more inclusive behaviors that were coherent with what I now could integrate into my own experience.

I suspect this may be the case with most of us heterosexuals. Relationships make the difference. If one’s conditioned homophobia never gets tested by the presence of a real person who is clearly worthy of inherent dignity, well, then it’s relatively easy to keep it abstract, to stay unaware of complexity, and to hold onto an ideologically hostile or ignorant position.

And as much as it was a stretch for me at first, it was also not all that hard, really, and soon the sexual diversity around me just became less of an issue, although I still always need to stay alert for my own complicities with systemic oppression that continues to poison the cultural environment for my non-hetero friends and neighbors. The least I can do is be an ally.

Which brings me to the second activity that has moved me along on my journey. Many important relationships along with my grounding in UU Principles have encouraged my own articulation against discrimination toward sexual minorities. When opportunities present themselves, I try my best to weigh in on the side of inclusion and safety, although I often still feel pretty weak at it. I think—and hope—I have unlearned the inappropriate conditioning of my childhood and now I see that interrupting evil—obvious or subtle evil —also really matters.

During that one year Barbara and I ministered in Colorado, we dealt with aftermaths from both the hateful murder of Matthew Shepard in nearby Wyoming in the fall, and the Columbine High School shootings in the county next to us in the spring. Proximity to these horrific events brought home to me the great need for more voices of both affirmation and challenge—affirmation of those who don’t fit into mainstream stereotypes, and the challenge of hateful behaviors that demean and sometimes destroy others.

Can we conquer the all-too-human tendency to deny and dismiss what is different? This is the deeper demand suggested by the easily-mouthed platitude, “Let there be peace and let it begin with me.” Just how much can we be at peace with difference, or will we succumb to fearful rejection of what is uncomfortably unfamiliar?

And can we adjust our cultural institutions to reflect a greater peace among diversity? Countering systemic oppression is even trickier than changing interpersonal prejudice. But what an interesting time we’re living in, now the year 2006! Our state of Maryland has its regressive elements, with an obstructive governor, but compared to Virginia, we are positively enlightened.

You may have seen the Dec. 18 2005 Washington Post Magazine cover story about two UU women, Barbara and Tibby, who very visibly moved from Fredericksburg, VA, to Frederick, MD, to avoid the regressive anti-gay legislation underway down there, and so they might be more able to legally tend to each other as they age.  Their story was made into a compelling video, called “Love Story in the Face of Hate.”

Barbara and Tibby may feel safer in Maryland, for the moment, but we’ve also got our own work to do here. One battle is to prevent a new State Constitutional Amendment from enshrining in law discrimination against people like them, who just want to have the legal rights every committed couple deserve. Such exclusive action, often called a “Defense of Marriage Act,” has been successful in 37 other states and right wing forces are aiming at Maryland, too.

A recent letter signed by almost 200 clergy, including us and most UU ministers in this state, is headed to the Maryland General Assembly, expressing strong opposition to any constitutional change that would ban same-sex civil marriage. “We believe that it is morally wrong to place the civil rights of a group of our citizenry up for a popular vote,” the letter says, among other things.

There’s also a lawsuit currently underway in Maryland challenging the exclusive civil marriage system on behalf of nine other couples, in similar fashion to the successful suit that opened up Massachusetts to more kinds of civil unions. The lawsuit here also charges that excluding same-sex couples from civil union violates the state constitution’s guarantees of equality.

There are lots of political dynamics that need our support, in one way or another, from advocacy in Annapolis to interrupting homophobic expression when it rears its ugly head locally. A strong and effective organization called EqualityMaryland [which merged with FreeState Justice in 2016] is the focal point for much productive activism, including an excellent, informative and inspiring website.

There are struggles and setbacks, to be sure, but there is also great reason to think we are the ones at this very moment in history who can help turn things toward the Good and the Just. Did you hear about British Prime Minister Tony Blair congratulating Sir Elton John on his civil union a couple weeks ago? Or that South Africa and Northern Ireland have now also legalized civil unions?

Closer to home, EqualityMaryland reports that “the Majority Leader of the Maryland House, during debate on passage of the gender-inclusive Hate Crimes Law, stated simply that even if there were only one transgender person in Maryland, we would be obligated as a community to stand up and protect that person’s rights. We all deserve to live free and without fear in our homes, workplaces, and the streets of our neighborhoods.” Huzzah to that!

And huzzah to State Delegate Doyle Niemann, UU, who vocally advocated last year for another gender-inclusive bill, the Medical Decision Making Act, which would have made it possible for gay couples to more fully participate in each other’s health care and end-of-life decisions—but it was blocked by Governor Ehrlich, at least for now.

As an ally, I start with myself and then reach out to share my growing perspective and commitment. I do this in hope and faith that the momentum will also grow and our world will change for the better. “Let there be peace and let it begin with me.” I’m on a journey and can’t pretend to be free of heterosexism yet, but I have noticed a freedom from old habits that used to bind up my heart. What matters most, ultimately, is the love we leave behind.

LGBTQ  Movement in the Salina, Kansas, Fellowship

When I moved back to my home state of Kansas in 2009, I began providing monthly pulpit supply at the Salina Fellowship.  I moved to Salina in 2011 and retired from congregational ministry in 2016.  During these years, I intentionally supported LGBTQ members personally and politically.  I directly encouraged leaders in Equality Kansas and participated in meetings and political activities as appropriate.  I officiated at LGBTQ weddings before and after Marriage Equality and did pre-marital counseling.

Our congregation developed the community reputation of being not only safe but also strong and steady allies.  Members were increasingly proud of our Fellowship’s support and visibility around LGBTQ concerns.

Immediately after the Supreme Court decision, two lesbian couples sought marriage licenses in advance of ceremonies at our building.  When the local marriage registrar balked,  a well-connected UU lawyer made the call that kept things moving.

We printed up cards publicizing that the Salina UU Fellowship was eager to have LGBT weddings; what good was a legal right if there was no place to have a wedding?  We were one of the few locations in central Kansas for a gay wedding.

While I had worked on Equality since 1990 during Seminary, it was the Salina Fellowship that was the most satisfying engagement because of the particular needs and people involved.

 

Remarks About Gay Pride

A Homily Delivered by Doddie Stone
Mount Diablo Church, Walnut Creek, CA
June 26, 1988

(Note:  This was Doddie’s “coming out” sermon to the congregation where she was a member.)

a coming out story would be
a chronicle of all the days of all my lives
it seems there is either nothing to tell,
or far too much
how can i possibly capture any of it
stop the flow
march it out in lines for all to see and know
i am always coming out
endlessly unfolding on an infinite number of levels
i struggle and persist.

– Constance Faye (“Come Again”)

On this day, as they have for many years, the closets of Contra Costa County will open and gay men and women will travel to San Francisco to be part of the annual Gay Pride parade.  They’ll watch from the sidelines, join in the crowds as the parade wraps itself around the watchers, or they will openly march with one of the contingents proclaiming GAY IS GOOD.

When the day is over the weary revelers will take BART back to Contra Costa and most of them will go back into their closets.  Then, except for occasional visits and conversations with trusted friends, the closet door will stay almost shut for most of the hidden “gays” within our community.  Because Contra Costa is not the most sympathetic place to live in an openly gay relationship, men and women will try to hide behind masks and labels to attempt to “fit” in our suburban, traditional, nuclear family-oriented community.

It’s not so difficult to hide (or think you’re hiding) if you find enough labels to complete the disguise.  It’s very useful to proclaim the labels of husband, wife, mother, father, grandmother or grandfather if those experiences have also been part of your life.  You can even use the labels of liberal organizations and support the causes of gay rights by claiming membership in the National Organization for Women, the American Civil Liberties Union — or even the Mt.  Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church, especially when you hold titles of responsibility like “Social Action Chair.”  One can continue for many years or even a lifetime withholding the sharing of self by simply relying on the most useful label of all — “Some of my best friends are…”

But there comes a time when the labels and masks seem to be exactly that — a way of hiding, creating barriers to stop the full expression of who you want to be and what you consider integrity for your own life.  When that time comes, you realize, AS I DID, that you aren’t really fooling anyone except yourself, and you come to understand that if you really want to stand up and be counted, you begin to work close to home, as well as far away in Central America, to speak against injustice and oppression wherever you see them operating.

When David Fanning asked me to share in this service, I don’t think he knew what an opportunity for a giant leap of personal growth he was offering me.  But when I said yes, I knew I was making a decision to come forward that was even scarier to me than being arrested in El Salvador or crawling under a barricade at the Concord Naval Weapons Station.  And I’m still very aware as I stand in this place that I don’t want the new labels to interfere with how I relate to students in my classroom or associates on my staff in my regular job.

Yet it has finally dawned on me that as I approach the age of 53, I can’t wait till I grow up to try to live to my full potential.  I can no longer let my father’s words of 20 years ago — “I hope you don’t have any of those tendencies” — be a barrier to expressing my caring and my relationship to all those I come in contact with — both men and women.

For I do have those tendencies and those tendencies have shaped and influenced my life so that I am deeply touched by the pain and sorrow as well as the joys and strengths of my sisters and my brothers wherever I travel in this ever-shrinking world.  I know that what affects one of us affects all of us, for we are one family sharing this time and space together on planet Earth.

I am very grateful to be a member of this denomination at this time in my life.  I am still filled to the brim and overflowing with the experiences of this past week as I participated as one of our delegates to our General Assembly in Palm Springs.  I am proud to at last belong to a church that seeks to affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person.  (I know at the same time that it isn’t a simple task to experience acceptance of one another, for I also learned at that same General Assembly that the survey in our UU World magazine last fall on attitudes towards homosexuality revealed that about 1500 — or approximately half of the 3000 responses — still showed evidence of much homophobia in many of our congregations across this continent.)

But I also know that as we covenant to affirm and promote “the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all,” we all grow as we attempt to understand and eradicate the injustices of our own back yard beginning right here in Walnut Creek, inside this very room.

Our congregation voted to be a sanctuary church — a safe haven for those who were fleeing unjust persecution in their homelands.  We took in a family to live in our front yard and we continue to give our money and our time to speak loudly for human rights.  I firmly believe that there are those here in Contra Costa County who need this church to be their sanctuary also — a place where they can come and be safe against prejudice and persecution from those who consider it a crime to express love for someone of the same sex — a place where all men and women can be validated for expressing caring for one another regardless of the gender of the lover or the beloved.  And I want to be part of that community, both offering and receiving sanctuary.

What  are the rewards for opening our hearts and doors for such a sanctuary?  Just very simply that we each grow as we are touched by one another — as individuals, as members of MDUUC, and as living beings in the interdependent web of existence of which we are all a part.

I would leave you with one last thought contained in a poem by Richard S. Gilbert.  “May we not close our doors on those we do not know or would not know.  May our doors be open to all, because someday through them might walk a friend.”

Responsive Blessing for a Same-Sex Couple Commitment Ceremony

LEADER: Because our love for one another is often not recognized, because our commitments are not yet legal,

ALL: We witness your commitment to one another. We validate your love, and support you in your lives together. We testify that today you have bravely formed an authentic bond, worthy of respect.

LEADER: Because our families often reject us,

ALL: We accept you as a new family. We will appreciate and respect our new families on par with the old. We admire your courage and cherish you as a family.

LEADER: Because we are often made invisible, because our history is often hidden, altered or destroyed,

ALL: We celebrate the beauty of this ceremony and your love. We will remember and celebrate the anniversary of this day. We will document our lives together.

LEADER: Because we have often been attacked by hatred, because we have often been ridiculed as crazy, deluded, or sick,

ALL: We vow to protect you as a couple. We will nourish and defend your love for each other. We will shelter one another from those who hate. Our shield will be forged from our openness to ourselves and to our love.

LEADER: Because we so often internalize oppression in self-destructive behaviors,

ALL: We will share truths with one another. We will help you realize your goals of personal growth toward self-love and value.

LEADER: We give thanks for the joy of this day, deeper than human words; for the strength of this moment and the graceful presence of a beloved community; and for the powerful embrace of human hearts.

ALL: Let us dance our dreams together from this day forward.
Let us say what we know as truth from this day forward.

Let us help one another speak of love from this day forward.
Let us enter into new covenants for tomorrow.

We will not be afraid. We will not be afraid.

We will celebrate life together!

Report to the 1987 General Assembly

From the report of Rev. Dr. William F. Schulz
UUA President, to the 1987 General Assembly:

We Unitarian Universalists have been the religious leaders in [the area of gay and lesbian rights]:  in our establishment of a denominational office; in our support of ministers who perform services of holy union. But at the moment our values and principles are being sorely tested: not just by prejudice from outside our doors but by homophobia from within. Let me put it as directly as I can:  far too many of our congregations are choosing not to call or even to consider gay or lesbian ministers solely on the basis of their affectional orientation. When we hear questions like these posed about gay or lesbian candidates — “But will she talk about anything other than homosexuality? But will we become a ‘gay church’? But will he be able to counsel heterosexuals? But will the community accept her?” — when we hear questions like these, we know we are in the grip of a profound terror. Now I do not want to be self-righteous here. The fear of same-sex love runs deep in Western culture. But I beg us to understand that if such fear is permitted to control us, we will be in violation of everything which Unitarian Universalism stands for in the world. It is not enough to say passively and self-contentedly, “Why, of course gays and lesbians are welcome in our congregation if they choose to come.” What is required is the recognition that gay and lesbian people are already members of every single congregation on this continent. The issue is whether they feel supported enough to make their presence known. What we require is the courage and wisdom to acknowledge our own fears, both gay and straight, and to take active steps to make the welcome known to the gay and lesbian community.

Unitarian Universalist Ministers’ Statement of Concern 2002

Issued at Convocation in Birmingham, Alabama

March 10, 2002

During Convo, with the leadership of Alabama Unitarian Universalist ministers, we issued a statement of concern about recent homophobic comments by Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Supreme Court of Alabama.  Kendyl Gibbons, acting in her role as UUMA President, invited those assembled at Convocation to endorse the following statement, initially formulated by the Rev. Karen Matteson of Birmingham and developed further with input from the UUMA Exec, John Hurley, and Meg Riley.  Although a formal meeting of the UUMA was not convened, those present overwhelmingly endorsed the statement and later, in an offering received during the Closing Celebration, contributed more than $4,000 to a fund to continue the struggle against official and unofficial homophobia in Alabama.

We Unitarian Universalist ministers, gathered in convocation in Birmingham, Alabama, are compelled by our religious beliefs to speak out in opposition to the recent homophobic comments of Chief Justice Roy Moore of the Supreme Court of Alabama.

Unitarian Universalism affirms the inherent worth and dignity of each person, and our faith tradition has long been a strong supporter of equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.  Judge Moore’s description of homosexuality as “an inherent evil,” “abhorrent,” “immoral,” and “detestable,” and his suggestion that execution is an appropriate penalty for gay people, are shameful expressions of bigotry and hatred.  As clergy people, we are called to condemn such hateful and divisive comments, especially when expressed by a person in a position of civic leadership and trust.

We Unitarian Universalist ministers are proud that our faith tradition has long ordained openly gay and lesbian ministers.  We are deeply concerned that Judge Moore’s comments have created a climate of fear for gay and lesbian citizens of Alabama as well as visitors to this state.  More than 450 Unitarian Universalist ministers have gathered here in Birmingham for the past several days, but we, and many groups who share our concern for equal rights for all citizens, will have second thoughts about convening our meetings in a state characterized by the oppression of its gay and lesbian citizens.  Let it be very clear that we condemn the legitimizing of hatred and the oppression of a significant part of our population.

Almost four decades ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote from a jail cell here in Birmingham words that apply today:  “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  Just as Unitarian Universalists worked for the equal rights for African Americans during the civil rights movement and beyond, we pledge our support to the struggle for civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender citizens of our country.

As Unitarian Universalists, we believe that it is homophobia that is the sin, not homosexuality.  We encourage the citizens of Alabama to oppose Judge Moore and those who think and act in like manner, to work to change existing laws that criminalize private sexual expression between consenting adults; to reach out in support of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people; and to make Alabama a safe place to live, work, and worship for all people.

“Let it be very clear that we condemn the legitimizing of hatred and the oppression of a significant part of our population.”

Interview with Rev. Richard Kellaway

December 6, 2010
(Interview presumably conducted by Lee Paczulla)

 Q: Was the issue of homosexuality already being talked about within the congregation when you were called to serve as minister? If not, how did it come up?

A: When I first came to the church, it didn’t come up in the search process – but after I appeared, a member who had been absent for a few years came back; apparently he felt comfortable with me.  Ed Clifton was quite open about being gay, he was not partnered, and it was no big deal.  Ed was a cantankerous kind of fellow.

So… the precipitating incident:  I was sitting in my office on the second floor when Edith Mannheimer called and said “There’s a young man down here who demands to see you.”  So a young man walks in door and says, “I am Craig Schoonmaker, president of Homosexuals Intransigent at Columbia University, and I demand to use your space.”  [I replied] “I am sympathetic, but cannot personally grant any group the right to meet in the church.”  He demanded, and again, I said “I am empathetic, but I have to talk with the Board.”  “Well,” he said, “if we can’t meet here, we’re going to picket the church” and I said “Really?”

At that point any news was good news – nothing would be better than to have a picket line in front of the church, calling attention to us.  So he went away, and I went to the Board, and what emerged from this is that we decided we ought to engage the congregation in talking about all of this.

We found a lovely woman, an out lesbian and a UU, who was going around to congregations if invited… Julie somebody… and we must have invited a gay man as well, who may not have been UU… and we had a very productive conversation.  The consensus was they can meet here if they want to.

Then various people began to emerge who had been longstanding members of the congregation – Elizabeth Parmelee was born into the church, in her late 60s at the time, and was headmistress of very prestigious school on the West End, part of a very prominent family – and she had a lesbian partner.  Ed Pease was another.  I knew about his partner, and he had neither denied nor affirmed that he was gay.  He wasn’t proclaiming it, but if you thought that he was, that was fine with him.

Various people began to come out of the closet, not vociferously, but they let it be known – the point is all those years, as far as I can see, no one had ever noticed.  Then there was the rather outspoken former chair of the Board, Roland Gammon, who was more of a supporter; a psychiatrist who knew him said “There’s a clear example of a forced heterosexual.”  I’m not sure if they [Homosexuals Intransigent] ever actually did meet there, but I know another group did and it was all very easy and comfortable.  There was never a serious controversy in the church at all; whether anybody drifted away because of that, I don’t know, but I can’t remember anyone.

I think what I can say is that Ed Clifton was the person who was vociferously out, and it didn’t seem to bother anybody; there was a sense that “that’s fine.”  Ed Pease didn’t hide his homosexuality, but didn’t proclaim it, and only after the Schoonmaker incident did it become clear to me that Elizabeth [Parmelee] and Bee were a lesbian couple.  There were some others around whose names I don’t remember… the point being that we thought we were a pretty relaxed and tolerant group already, therefore we didn’t feel a need to do anything specific.  Part of the lesson that began to emerge after a while was that it’s not enough to say “all are welcome;” you sometimes have to say directly that “GLBT people are welcome.”

Q. Was there any awareness at all of the Stonewall riots within the congregation?

A. Certainly we were all aware of it. I guess I went there in the Fall of 1969, but I don’t remember it being a congregational conversation; it might have been coffee hour conversation, but I don’t remember us as a result saying we ought to do anything.

Q. What was the reception like to your earliest sermons on the issue (the “Men’s Liberation” sermon in May of 1970, and the sermon with Rev. Nash speaking afterwards in November of 1971)? What about the newsletter notes of the same period?

A. I’m sure there were about a half dozen people who were maybe uneasy. I remember a couple that was – well – he was a professional waiter, a perfectly nice guy, but in social class terms they came from a very conservative, Italian background.  Then I think of a couple of other people who probably weren’t too happy about it.  When people see the majority affirming something, then they’re not going to stand up and say “I object”  – they’re either going to sulk or just not come in as much as they did before.  But I don’t remember any active resistance.

There’s a footnote story here which is that Anthony Marshall joined the church somewhere in the middle of all this, that is after we’d gone through the issue of the conversation and stuff, and quickly became a leading member, terrific guy.  And I can remember Ed Pease saying “I wonder when Tony’s going to come out of the closet.”  Tony didn’t come out of the closet.  Having lost contact for a decade, we re-established contact with him in Florida.  We went over to see him three or four times and on the fourth or fifth time, he said “Guess what?  I’m gay!  I never knew it!”  – and I believed him.  I realized I may have encountered people who are basically homosexual but somehow it just doesn’t come into consciousness until the middle of life.

Q. Right after Rev. Nash was invited to speak at the church, a group called the UU Gay Fellowship was organized and met through only one church year according to the records, from ’71-‘72. What precipitated the invitation to Nash, and was the formation of the group planned, or inspired by the service? Do you remember why the group stopped meeting?

A. I knew Dick Nash, and liked him, but I don’t know where that precipitated – we were still wrestling with the issue at that time. I don’t think it was a matter of any controversy [that the UU Gay Fellowship stopped meeting]; but some of our visibly gay and lesbian members had no desire to be part of a group.  It was probably very important in the history of gay and lesbian things that there are people who affirm and celebrate their gayness – they want the world to know – and there are other people who are hiding it, who say we don’t need a group, we have our friends, gay and straight, it’s just one more meeting for what purpose?  But certainly the church was known as welcoming; we took referrals from other ministers.  So the word was around.

Q. What do you remember about a group called the Gay Women’s Alternative, founded by Jean Powers in 1973? The group’s meetings weren’t advertised nearly as much as the UU Gay Fellowship – do you know why this might have been?

A. I haven’t thought of that name [Jean Powers] for at least 30 years. I don’t remember anything about the group.  I think what I would guess is that she probably came to me and said, “We want to do this” and I said “Sure.”  What I remember is that she was not the kind of person where I would want to join a group that she was leading.  The wonderful woman who came earlier, Julie, was so warm and affirmative, whereas Jean was sort of a formidable woman who seemed very tough.  That doesn’t mean she was, but I would make a personal statement:  with Julie I’d like to get to know her better, with Jean I don’t particularly want to be your pal.  The point of making that statement is that if I reacted that way, it’s possible that women reacted that way, and that in fact she hoped to start something that didn’t catch on.

Q. One thing I discovered about Ed Clifton in the archives was that he was part of a group called the Extended Family – can you tell me more about this group?

A .  This was one of my initiatives – the idea was we had a lot of single people, older people who are widowed perhaps, and there were relatively few children in the church.  It was not my bright idea alone, this was a thing that was happening in other congregations, comparable to a small group ministry kind of thing, to give people an opportunity to get together socially, outside of church.  There were 15-20 of us, and we’d get together once a month; my children were there, the only children.

Ed was very visibly part of that, and was exactly the kind of person that we wanted it to be for, in the sense of a person living on his own who valued social contact but didn’t have much of it outside of the congregation.  One of the interesting stories is that our son, who must have been 8 or 9 years old, came home at some point and said “I hate those fags.”  And my wife at that point said to him, “Do you know that your uncle Ed is a fag?”  “Huh?”  People accept the ones they know; it was a great lesson for my son, to be told that he actually knew a real live homosexual and spent a lot of time with him.

Q. How much do you remember about how homosexuality was addressed at other churches in New York City during this time?

A. Well Donald Harrington [at Community Church] was known as homophobic. The one thing I remember was over a different issue, the Black Empowerment movement.  Winifred Norman visibly left and came to our church, because Donald was an ardent integrationist – but I also have a hunch that Winnie was a lesbian, she never married, never had a visible partner.

There’s another name…  an African-American woman who was very active in the church.  She had a live-in partner who was not a part of our church but would show up from time to time, but I don’t think they left Community for us.

The minister of All Souls Church at that time, Walter Cring – I knew him, liked him, he was personally a pretty conservative type, didn’t want to make waves.

Brooklyn would have been relatively supportive; the minister was a very good guy at the forefront of the black empowerment movement…  I would think he’d be a very strong supporter of gay rights.

Read the interview with Ed Pease

Homosexuality at Fourth Universalist Church:  An Interview with Edmund Pease

Submitted by Rev.  Richard A.  Kellaway, minister at Fourth Universalist Church from 1968 to 1973.  (At that time, the church was called The Universalist Church of New York City.)  The interview was presumably conducted by Lee Paczulla when she was a student at Harvard Divinity School.  Edmund Pease was a member of the church. 

Q:  Was there any public conversation on homosexuality at Fourth Universalist prior to Rev.  Kellaway’s sermons and statements addressing the issue?

A:  It was non-existent… There was no conversation.  Of all of the people that were formally active in Ciarcia’s [Rev.  Albert F.  Ciarcia, 1955-56] ministry of a couple of years, and Ray Baughn’s (Rev.  Raymond J.  Baughn, 1957-58] ministry of less than a year, my estimate is that probably about 40% of that group was gay, but it was never talked about.  This group was looked at in the congregation as “the young people,” the younger generation.

I first visited the church in the spring of 1955, and the congregation was very, very small – maybe 35-45 people, mostly older.  At that first meeting, which was the last church session before closing for the summer in June, Ed Clifton invited 3 people home to have lunch with him.  We spent the afternoon with him talking.  Of that group, I was one; the others were a schoolteacher from Pennsylvania who was at that time studying at teacher’s college; and a young novelist, a native of Massachusetts and graduate of Antioch, who was living in New York and making his living as a psychiatric social worker in a mental hospital.  The three of us spent that whole afternoon talking.  Although not acknowledged at the time, it turned out later that two of us were gay, the teacher from Pennsylvania and myself.

As Richard [Kellaway] said, Ed Clifton was always very open about his sexuality, which was somewhat resented by the older people in the church who would say, “Why do you have to talk about it?  We really don’t care.”  Soon after publishing his first book, the Antioch graduate got married to a very quiet girl from a very low class background.  Eight months after Frank got married, he committed suicide, which was suspected to be related to unresolved issues regarding his sexuality.

At that time, in 1955-56, Fourth U was a small congregation, and the Board of Trustees was all men; six men, all very conservative and older.  Hartford Beaumont, who was for many years Chairman of the Board, was a retired lawyer with Sterling & Sterling; he was an arch conservative, far right, very Joe McCarthy-type anti-Communist.  Another member of the Board was Colonel Wilson, the former military mayor of Seoul during the occupation after the Korean War.  He also was far right, very, very conservative.  A pretty good guy, old and a little bit crotchety, was Mr.  Powers, a former editor of the New York Times, who lived in Queens and would commute in to church.  Also Alan Spicer, a retired executive at AT&T.  Another member of the Board at that time, who subsequently became chairman, was Roland Gammon, a public relations person, who had his own firm.  Prior to that he was the public relations officer based in New York for the Council of Liberal Churches, the umbrella organization for the AUA & UCA prior to the UUA merger in 1961.  And all of these people just continued on forever; there was no turnover on the Board – if there were elections, they all stayed in.

There was a kind of stifling atmosphere at the church in the mid 1950’s, when Ciarcia came for a ministry of a couple years.  Things began to pick up as new people were attracted.  Rev.  Ciarcia was a graduate of St.  Lawrence, and a lot of recent graduates of St.  Lawrence, young professionals working in the city, started to show up and that was the beginning of the building of a younger group of people.  Of that group, I would say that something like 40% of them were known among ourselves to be gay.

The first break came when one gay member was elected to the Board of Trustees, Bill Lang… I don’t remember how that came about, whether somebody else retired.  Bill’s partner, Henry, was Jewish; although he came to social functions, he was not a functioning member of the congregation.  And very soon after that, I was nominated for the Board of Trustees of the New York State Convention of Universalists.  I guess maybe this was initiated by Ciarcia, or maybe because I wrote an essay on “Why I Am a Universalist” that appeared in the church newsletter (edited by old Hartford Beaumont) and later reprinted in a denominational publication.  But anyway, I was elected, I think, in 1958, and the next year when the annual convention was to be held in New York City, I was put on the program committee for the annual meeting, acting as liaison with the church.

The controversy that developed in the church at that time (when Ray Baughn was minister) had nothing to do with issues of sexuality, but is interesting in regard to issues of congregational polity.  The divisions were between liberal values and repressive tactics motivated by right wing political values and anti-communist fears left over from the McCarthy era.

The Convention Program Committee had voted to invite as keynote speaker Pierre van Paassen, a well-known liberal writer and journalist (who was also an ordained Unitarian minister and happened to live in the old Ansonia Hotel, a few blocks from the church).  George Kovaka of Buffalo (Vice President of the Convention & Chair of its Program Committee) made the initial contact with Van Paassen, and then asked Ray Baughn to follow up arranging details for his appearance at the church for the fall annual meeting of the Convention.  That’s when all hell broke loose!  Colonel Wilson egged on Hartford Beaumont to intervene to prevent Van Paassen’s appearance, alleging that he had communist leanings

Although this misdirected power play by “church leaders” (without support of the congregation, and opposed by the minister) ultimately failed, great damage was done.  Ironically these events catapulted me into denominational politics.

George Kovaka got so fed up with this kind of interference that he resigned from the New York State Convention of Universalists and recommended that I take his place as Vice President.  Very soon after joining the Board, I became Vice President when I was  perhaps 23 years old.  Subsequently I was elected President of the Universalist Convention when I was 25 and first took my seat on the UUA Board when I was 27.  (I always wondered:  would the same thing have happened if it were known at the time that I was a gay man?)

Q:  Considering your estimate that maybe 40% of the younger contingent at the church was gay or lesbian, would you say Fourth Universalist had a reputation as something of a haven for gays and lesbians even before the 1970s?  Was this sort of gay community common in other Unitarian or Universalist churches at the time, or other New York City churches in general?

A:  I don’t know if it was really known then as a gay or lesbian haven.  Except for Ed Clifton, everyone was essentially in the closet.  The congregation was conservative politically and theologically, even for a humanist person.  I don’t want to say, “not respected,” but there was not an overwhelming welcoming feeling.  Community Church was much more liberal theologically, although Harrington (Rev.  Donald S.  Harrington, 1944-82) called himself a theist.  All Souls was very definitely theistic.  Don McKinney (Rev.  Donald W.  McKinney, 1952-1992) was minister at the Brooklyn Unitarian Church, and that was the most open congregation theologically.  But at All Souls in Manhattan and Community Church, gay people wouldn’t have felt particularly comfortable at that time.  They probably felt somewhat more comfortable at a small congregation of mainly older people at the Universalist Church.

Q:  How did Rev.  Leonard Helie (Rev.  Leonard Helie, 1959-67) engage (if at all) with the gay and lesbian community?  Did he talk about or address these issues?  In what way?

A:    Not at all!  Leonard Helie came in under strange circumstances (which are illuminating in terms of church polity).  The church was going through a “search process” that wasn’t really a search process in the traditional sense.  They kept on inviting people to come as guest speakers over a year and a half period, hoping to find somebody, whom they would ask to be candidate for minister — kind of “serial candidating.”  In that process, Helie appeared; he was a friend of Roland Gammon’s.  Leonard Helie was a Harvard graduate; he had a promising start in the ministry in a fairly important church, I think in Roxbury, but things didn’t work out there.  Then he went to Homestead, Florida, sort of in the backwater, where he apparently was going through a divorce or separation at that time.  They couldn’t agree on choosing him as a candidate, but Roland engineered this thing where he became interim “supply minister, while we continue to look ”and that finally led to his becoming minister.

All of the younger people in the church were opposed to him.  When he came and settled, they either just resigned or dropped away or stopped coming.  At that time I had just moved to Brooklyn.

I basically would go to Fourth Universalist for Christmas and Easter services, make a small contribution and attend the Annual Meetings.  But I remained active in denominational affairs; I was attending church at the Brooklyn church at that time, though I never became a member.  Then when Helie left some of us came back, that was when Richard was chosen.  I was on the search committee that chose Richard.  The Helie period was a very, very fallow period, and any gay presence – which was not really overt before that – just disappeared completely during Helie’s ministry.  They stopped attending because they didn’t find Helie’s ministry meeting their needs.  It was just a very fallow period with a few of the old timers hanging on.

Q:  Was there any awareness at all of the Stonewall riots within the congregation?

A:  It was known about, but it was not a topic of much conversation, as Richard said; there was no congregational conversation of it, and very little coffee hour conversation.  There was one couple that lived in Greenwich Village who were great friends of the entire quote “younger” group – or the entire gay group – and I remember talking to them about Stonewall.  Nurak (Ed Pease’s partner) and I used to visit with them frequently, as did Ed Clifton.  Their names were Dot & Doug Anderson; they had a floor-through in a brownstone a couple of blocks from where Stonewall took place.

Q:  Do you remember much about what the reception was like to Rev.  Kellaway’s earliest sermons and newsletter notes on the issue of homosexuality?  From the perspective of a congregant and lay leader – were there any problems or push back from within the congregation to addressing gay and lesbian issues?

A:  There were no problems – but neither was there high visibility.  I don’t know too much about what happened in Schoelfield’s time (Rev.  Joel Schoelfield, 1974-84) , and I was not around during Darryl Berger’s ministry (Rev.  Daryl Berger, 1989-99), but my impression  is that the latter was another period similar to Helie’s time.

As to Richard Kellaway’s ministry, I would characterize it as a period of openness and willingness to try new approaches.  While I would not call his ministry as a period of great visibility for gender-related issues, I think he fostered the right attitude of openness.  I agree with what Richard said about Jean Powers and her small group.  Jean had a personality that was not easy to relate to; she started this group that was always, I assume, quite small, and it was basically dominated by her and petered out.  Even the UU Gay Fellowship, while that was meeting at the church, didn’t have an awful lot of visibility about it either.

But there were other things that Richard did that were opening up, not specifically gender-related.  The big Libmen/Libwomen theme, which was an outside group meeting at the church.  That group brought a lot of younger people to the church – it was mainly a big money making thing for the church.  There were theatre groups meeting there, which undoubtedly included some gay people, and these were all accepted and I think were part of laying the groundwork.

But my perception is that in terms of organized congregational involvement, what was happening in Kellaway’s time is pale if you look at what happened 10 or 15 years later in Montclair, NJ [an early Welcoming Congregation Mr.  Pease later joined].  The feeling was of a lot of talk, and real openness in the Montclair congregation, which was not the impression you would have in Fourth Universalist.  Schoelfield was not a strong minister – not as good a minister as Kellaway was.  He had all of the right attitudes, but again the issue was not visible, and the real blossoming, what I would call comparable to Montclair, really occurred during [Rev.] Rosemary Bray McNatt’s time at Fourth U (2001-2014).

One of the things that Richard did is he brought in a young music director, Michael May – a very talented gay man who did a lot with the musical program.  That involved a lot of gay people coming and being around, although they were outsiders.  Another thing that Richard did was to establish a religious services committee, a small group that he wanted to consult with about programming.  He was the main initiator, but all of us were coming from various perspectives, developing ideas about religious services we wanted to do.  Michael May was on the committee, I was on the committee, Ed Clifton was on the committee, Elizabeth Parmelee was chair at the time, and Lucille Spence was on the committee, so that almost all of the committee was gay people, like about 80%.

Q:  With gay men and lesbians so well represented on various leadership committees in the church, it surprises me that there wasn’t more public talk about homosexuality.  Was the church maybe an accepting place but not necessarily affirming?

A:  It was not demonstrative, no.  Contrast 4th U with the Montclair church, where the Welcoming Congregation committee would meet about every 6 weeks to do planning and they ran a film series every fall.  That committee was probably about 60% gay people, and 40% straight members of the congregation – but all of the members of the Welcoming Congregation committee had special nametags with a rainbow flag and a red ribbon on it, so that anyone coming to the church – like a gay person coming to the church for the first time — could easily search out any of those people to talk to during coffee hour.  It’s a completely different kind of attitude and openness – not openness – Fourth Universalist Church was never closed.  I don’t know how to characterize it, but it’s a very, very different feeling in terms of visibility.

There was much more visibility of gay people in Richard Kellaway’s time – that came because of all these other outreach activities.  There was a former schoolteacher, Lee Austin, who came on staff and was sort of like the rental manager; he managed these outside groups from the point of view of church administration.  Lee never made any big thing about it, but his partner would come around and people knew that he was Lee’s partner.  It never caused any problems.

An interesting note also is that Ed Clifton was a candidate for UU ministry.  He went to Starr King.  Clifton was orphaned and grew up in Nebraska.  He went into the Navy at the time of the Korean War, late 40s thereabouts, and after that went to Starr King.  I know that he never had a church and was not ordained.  I don’t know whether he applied for fellowship and was turned down or what, but I have the impression that he may have had a ministerial internship somewhere in California.  When I was on the Starr King Board I never went back to check, but my impression was that he left before graduation, which would have been in the late 1940s.

You might also like to know that I met my partner, not at the church, but through a wonderful couple at the church, the Eves.  Grace was a member of the church, a born Universalist from upstate New York.  Grace was an R.N.  when she married Sam; they did not have any children.  Samuel Russell Eves was a Quaker, musician and composer, and spoke three or four languages and did volunteer work at the Friends International Center in New York.  Several times a year they would invite a group of foreign students plus a couple of other people from the church to dinner.  I was a new member of the church back then, in 1956, and Grace invited me to their house for the first time.  That’s where I met my partner, who was a student from Thailand.  Grace and Sam became essentially “second parents” to us.

Q:  One name you brought up in your e-mail was Barbara Gittings, who I’ve read about as one of the founders of the New York chapter of the (lesbian organization) Daughters of Bilitis.  Was she associated with Fourth Universalist in some way?

A:  Yes, she was an active member of the church and very visible.  Everybody knew about her sexuality, but she was well liked and respected, although she never had any leadership role in the church.  I think she may have been even on the national board or a national officer of Daughters of Bilitis.  She’s a very articulate person.  I don’t know if she joined the church, but she came during Richard Kellaway’s time.

See the companion piece to this interview, an interview with Richard Kellaway, also apparently conducted by Lee Paczulla.

How We Love: On Growing a Soul

A Sermon Offered at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson, AZ
November 18, 2012 – Stephen C.  Kraynak

“The hand you take across the aisle may not be one you know; but listen to its story before you let it go.”  These words by Georgeann Weaver, which the Desert Chorale and the Family Singers so beautifully sang for today’s introit, are a segue to my sermon.

This morning I will share some of the story of my journey to Unitarian Universalism.  My hand may not be one that you know.  But to all of you I extend my hand across the aisle, and before you let it go, I ask that you listen to my story.

Catholicism is the ancestral religion of my family.  My great-grandparents and grandparents brought their Catholic faith with them when they emigrated in the late 1890s and early 1900s from Slovakia.  They crossed the Atlantic Ocean with hope of finding better lives for themselves and their descendants.  Their greatest possession was their Catholic faith.

All of my relatives were Catholic.  We celebrated family life events — births, first communions, confirmations, weddings and funerals — with Catholic rituals.  Everyone attended Sunday Mass.  This was part of our family culture.  When I visited Slovakia, I learned that my maternal grandmother’s small parish church in the village of Trebisov had celebrated its eight hundredth anniversary in the 1980s.  Catholicism is a long and enduring family tradition.

As an infant I was baptized a Catholic, and I attended Catholic elementary and high schools in Cleveland.  When I pursued an undergraduate degree in education at the Ohio State University in Columbus, I began attending St. Thomas More Newman Center, the Catholic parish for the university community.  There, I remained an active member after I began my teaching career in the Columbus city schools.

I was a dedicated teacher and loved my work.  I had long suspected that I was gay, but found that investing my time and energy into work was a way to avoid dealing with this difficult personal issue.  Work itself, and the positive reinforcement I received for being a good teacher, became an addiction.  But there was an emptiness and loneliness in my life that work did not and could not fill.

At the Newman Center I made friends.  I was among liberal Catholics who welcomed pushing the boundaries of standard Catholic worship and community outreach.  The Paulist Fathers who staffed the Newman Center led this effort.  They preached about the boundless love of God for all of his children, without exception.  Yet, the possibility of being both Catholic and gay was not addressed from the pulpit.

In 1983 the Newman Center staff organized a Gay Men’s Support Group, called Dignity.  It was advertised in the church bulletin as welcoming to all.  I decided to go to a meeting.  I was surprised to find some of my Newman friends there.  They greeted me with open arms.  I found coming out to be awkward, a difficult change of life, and a different life orientation.  But the men were supportive and encouraging.  At times it felt like there was a group of us coming out together.

Often twenty to thirty men gathered for a Dignity meeting.  It was a group where we spoke freely, told our individual stories, and learned our common history.  We opened our homes for social and holiday gatherings and potluck dinners.  We went dancing together in the downtown bars.  We planned annual retreats for ourselves.  I felt welcomed and accepted in this group.  Being both gay and Catholic was possible.

On October 1, 1986, that changed.  The Vatican Office of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith issued a “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.”

[From the Dignity website] “This (letter) instructed the Bishops to withdraw all support, or even the semblance of support, from any group vague on the immorality of homogenital acts… The Vatican had Dignity in mind.  And many found the letter harsh and uninformed.  Following (this), (Catholic) Bishops (around the country) began evicting local (Dignity) chapters for rejecting Church teaching and, most importantly, for opposing ecclesiastical authority.”

The Catholic Bishop of Columbus sent a letter to the Newman Center director, instructing him to evict us — all the members of Dignity, who had become such an affirming part of my life.  The Bishop owned the Newman Center building and its land, and he alone decided who was welcome there.

After a family history of more than eight hundred years in the Catholic Church, the Bishop of the Diocese of Columbus, at the direction of Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, under the auspices of Pope John Paul II, evicted me from Catholic Church property.

The letters from both the Vatican and the Columbus Bishop were clear.  The authority of the teaching hierarchy of the Catholic Church must be upheld.  Dissenting voices were not allowed and not welcome.  In simple terms the message was:  be silent or get out.  I had a choice.  Either I had to assent to ecclesiastical authority and accept church teaching, thus denying who I was as a person, denying my own truth and my own conscience; or I had to turn my back on my Catholic upbringing and leave the church.

Dignity moved downtown to the basement of the United Church of Christ.  I attended Mass at the Newman Center less frequently.  When I was there, I felt resentful.  I did not feel welcome.  I wondered how all of these liberal Catholics could simply accept unloving directives from their hierarchy without a word, without questions, and without any protest.  They allowed their Bishop to evict and silence some of their own members.

Eventually I went to Mass at the Newman Center only on special days, such as Christmas and Easter.  For several years I was un-churched, but I continued to meet monthly with my Dignity brothers.

Out of curiosity, I began attending occasional Sunday worship at the nearby First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus.  I had heard that they were a very “unusual” church.  I had been told they did not believe in God, and that they had no dogmas or doctrines.  But I found them to be friendly and welcoming.  Although their worship services felt strange to me — lacking the ritual of the Catholic Church — I sat in the back and kept watching and marveling at how those Unitarians did things.

At a Dignity meeting in October, 1992, we learned that the Office of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had sent another letter to all US Bishops.  “(This) document urged Bishops to oppose gay/lesbian civil rights laws in certain instances, such as placement of children for adoption or foster care, (the) employment of teachers or athletic coaches, or military recruitment.”  [from the Dignity website]

Although this Vatican letter had no direct effect on my teaching in the Columbus city schools, it was blatant and purposeful discrimination.  There had been a prior, failed attempt to ban all gay and lesbian teachers from the California public schools.  The Catholic Church now supported other such initiatives, everywhere.

In their obsession with whom I love, the Catholic hierarchy failed to see that how I love is most important.  I did not feel beloved in this Catholic Church, the church in which I was baptized, educated and confirmed.  The teachings of the hierarchy were not life-affirming for me.  I was not acceptable just the way I was.  And I was told to live a lie.

These are the words of song number 1053 in our hymnal:  “How could anyone ever tell you, you were anything less than beautiful?  How could anyone ever tell you, you were less than whole?  How could anyone fail to notice that your loving is a miracle?  How deeply you’re connected to my soul.”

Yet, this is exactly what the Catholic Church hierarchy told me:  that I was less than beautiful.  I was less than whole.  My loving was not a miracle.  And my soul, which they had taught me was immortal, was not connected to theirs.

I made a choice.  I rejected this Catholic Church teaching and stood in opposition to ecclesiastical authority.  I refused to hide my own truth and would not be silenced.  After sustaining the faith of my ancestors for centuries, the Catholic Church had evicted me and was now actively urging my oppression.  I felt rejected.  I felt betrayed.  I felt that my cultural heritage was taken from me.  I left the Catholic Church with much anger, resentment and hurt.

I began to attend the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus on a regular basis.  The members welcomed me with great kindness and hospitality.  I must be very clear about this.  I was not interested in returning there because of the Sunday worship.  Rather, it was the vibrant, happy human energy I felt when I walked through their front doors.  The church was alive.  Above all, it was the outgoing, sincere kindness of the church members, and how they warmly welcomed me, a newcomer, among them.  I will never forget their kindness.

Those Unitarians loved their congregation and their church.  They built it.  They grew it.  They were happy there and they genuinely enjoyed being together.  And they were thrilled to share it with all newcomers.

I joined Interweave, their support group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.  I participated in adult classes they offered, such as Building Your Own Theology and Owning Your Religious Past.  Both classes were intended to “…help Unitarian Universalists grow in their faith, moving from a space of discomfort and awkwardness to a space of affirmation and wholeness.”   [from the UUA website]

Being able to talk with other adults, some of them church members, and to listen to their personal stories, was most helpful.  They offered me different perspectives on my crisis of faith.  They supported me as I dealt with my painful loss.  They encouraged me to live my own truth and find meaning in my struggle.

Several people from the membership committee personally invited me to attend the Path to Membership class.  They assured me there would be no pressure to join the church.  But, they said, I would learn more about their church and their faith.

In the autumn of 1993, I participated in the Path to Membership class.  I learned some of the history of their church and about its structure, such as the Board of Trustees and a Church Council.  Of course, they eagerly informed me about… committees.  Some large standing committees had their own impressive tri-fold handouts which detailed their respective ministries.

I heard about time, talent and treasure — that members are expected to provide volunteer service to the church and make a meaningful financial contribution.  I learned about congregational polity — that this church governed itself and had a written constitution and standing rules.  It was a revelation to learn that the members called their ministers by a majority vote.  For me, this was an entirely new way of doing church.

Although membership was not expected or required, I understood that in order to be fully involved in the life of this church, membership was a necessary commitment.  So I made another choice.  For the first time in my life, I freely and intentionally chose a faith tradition.  I signed the membership book of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbus on the 18th day of November, 1993, nineteen years ago today.  Today is the anniversary of my liberation from an authoritarian, coercive, and punitive church hierarchy.  On that day, my story became part of the living tradition of Unitarian Universalism.  Nineteen years ago today, I began to grow my soul.

In the years that followed, I became more committed to the life of that congregation, and got involved in its ministry through volunteer committee work and, of course… meetings.

I will always remember my first annual membership meeting.  I was a novice in congregational polity.  Other than in communal prayer, I was not accustomed to speaking in a sanctuary.  Or to doing church business through discussion, and making decisions by majority vote, conducted according to Robert’s Rules of Order.

I have forgotten the issue that compelled me to take the floor at that annual meeting.  But as I stood and began to speak, a member from the back of the sanctuary yelled out:  “Tell us your name!” I apologized, and began again with my name.  As I continued, another member yelled out: “Use the microphone!”

I have told this story many times to other newcomers considering our faith.  The church of my ancestors told me that my voice was not welcome.  It told me to be silent, or get out.  Unitarian Universalism raised its welcoming voice to me and said:  Tell us your name, and use the microphone!  I learned that in this faith I am a welcome and valued member of my congregation — just as I am.

The Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson, and this faith tradition, have no Bishop who owns this property and can tell me I am not welcome here.  This church has no hierarchy which can silence me.  The final authority in this congregation, in matters of finances, policy and procedure, resides with us, the members.

Unitarian Universalism is a non-creedal religion, and has no dogmas or doctrines.  Rather, it is a covenantal religion which asks me to promise to live my life faithful to myself, to my congregation and to the world.  Instead of waiting for a future heaven, it encourages me to work toward heaven on earth, here and now, in Beloved Community.  This is what I find to be most welcoming — and most challenging — about my faith.

As I live this faith, I spend no time or energy in the pursuit of personal salvation in another life.  I neither seek heaven nor fear hell.  What matters is what I do with my life and how I do it, in community with others.  What matters is how I love.

I will never, ever, ever forget how I felt when my ancestral church evicted me because of who I was.  And I will always remember how I felt when Unitarian Universalism welcomed me, just as I was, and encouraged me on my journey toward wholeness.

In today’s story for all ages, We Are A Rainbow, the author, Nancy Tabor, describes my experience with the Catholic Church hierarchy with these words:  “When we do not understand each other, we feel bad… We hurt.  We cry.  We separate.  We stop trying to find a way to be together.”   She concludes her story with words that depict Unitarian Universalism: “…Rainbows… they shine for everyone!” Unitarian Universalism is a faith which celebrates all the colors of the rainbow.  De Colores.  It welcomes all people of good will.  And together, we stand on the side of love.

When I chose this faith, the greatest doubt I had was this:  Is Unitarian Universalism enough?  Is this faith enough to support me through difficult, life-changing events, and at the end of life itself?  For what is the logic of being part of a faith community which professes no doctrine or dogma, promises no salvation or eternal life, but still asks for personal commitment?

The Unitarian Universalist Association Commission on Appraisal best states why I have come to profess that being a part of this religious movement is life-giving, and why I believe this faith is enough for me.  In their document Belonging, The Meaning of Membership, the Commission on Appraisal writes the following:

“The possibility of growth and change, of transformation, is the real basis for participation in a religious community.  We have all experienced losses and disappointments, pain and grief.  We have been broken by life and need healing.

The closest that contemporary Unitarian Universalists may come to a concept of salvation is to offer opportunities for growth and transformation, for becoming more whole.  As one of the great ministers of the past century, Rev. A. Powell Davies, memorably put it, ‘Life is just a chance to grow a soul.’ “ [from Belonging: The Meaning of Membership, p.  3, report of the UUA’s Commission on Appraisal in 2001 – Chapter 1: The Process of Commitment]

In this, my chosen faith, I have been on a nineteen-year journey toward wholeness, and I have been free to live my own truth.  During this week of Thanksgiving, I affirm my gratitude for having found Unitarian Universalism, for it continues to offer me opportunities to grow my soul.

This morning I have extended my hand across the aisle to you and asked you to listen to my story.  Before you let go of my hand, and I of yours, I have some closing words taken from a song by Beth Nielsen Chapman, called How We Love:

Life has taught me this:
Everyday is new
And if anything is true
All that matters when we’re through
Is how we love.

Faced with what we lack
Some things fall apart.
From the ashes new dreams start
All that matters to the heart is how we love.

Sometimes we forget trying to be so strong
In this world of right and wrong
All that matters when we’re gone
All that mattered all along

All we have that carries on
Is how we love.

De Colores!  So be it.  Amen.

Until All Are Equal: Refusing to Sign Marriage Licenses

A sermon delivered by Rev.  Josh Pawelek, Unitarian Universalist Society, East Manchester, CT on November 2, 2003

When I initially planned to preach on my decision to stop signing marriage licenses, I certainly didn’t imagine this would be the week the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court would hand down its decision in Goodridge vs.  Department of Public Health on whether or not the state’s ban on issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples is consistent with its constitution’s various commitments to equality.  So thanks a lot to the MA Supreme Judicial Court for stealing my thunder.  It almost feels inconsequential to speak about not signing marriage licenses here when such a momentous event has taken place up north.

It was momentous.  Tuesday morning at 10:00 I was walking past a TV monitor at a bank branch in our local grocery store, and there it was on CNN: “Massachusetts High Court Overturns Ban on Gay Marriage.”  Wait, what?  I had to read it twice to make sure I was reading correctly.  You don’t often see those words in that order.  In fact, no one has ever seen those exact words in that exact order.  As Chief Justice Marshall put it, “we are mindful that our decision marks a change in the history of our marriage law.”  This, for me, and for so many others who’ve worked tirelessly — and who will continue to work tirelessly — for full civil rights for gays and lesbians, was a sweet and precious moment in history, a moment of justice.  “Yes!” I said out loud.  Make no mistake:  I have a very distinct bias and much emotional investment when it comes to gay and lesbian civil rights.  The tellers and their customers all turned to look at me.  Some of them turned to look at the monitor.  None of them joined in my excitement.  Longing for someone to share this moment with, I looked at my baby boy in the shopping cart, put my arms in the air, and said “Yaaaaayyyy!” Poor kid.  Oblivious to everything except my excitement, he put his arms in the air and screamed “Yaayyyyy!”

What a relief this must be for the plaintiffs.  They’ve been wrapped up in this for a few years now.  They experienced the agony of losing the case in the first round, but were able to appeal to the Supreme Court.  They were first told that the decision would be handed down in early July.  They’ve been waiting, on pins and needles I’m sure, for the last five months, their lives on hold, with no idea how the decision would go.  I had the great honor of sitting on a panel at the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly this past June with the lead plaintiff, Hillary Goodridge.  We were each speaking about the status of the gay marriage movement in our various states.  I remember that she had to leave the panel early because she was having her picture taken for Newsweek.  She is funny and warm and humble, and not the person whose name and life you’d expect to find at the center of a national legal and cultural struggle.  But there she is.  “Yaaaaayyyy!”

I want to emphasize that the high court’s decision does not mean that gay marriages can begin taking place in Massachusetts.  The court could’ve gone that far, but it didn’t.  Similar to Vermont, the court told the legislature to take care of it, and gave them 180 days in which to do so.  This decision is more radical than the Vermont court’s decision because the Massachusetts court did not give the legislature the option to create a civil union law.  This MA legislature must amend the marriage laws.  This will be full gay marriage, no second class citizenship.  It is possible that a constitutional amendment will be put forth in Massachusetts to declare that marriage is only between a man and a woman, but this would take a couple of years, and I believe it will be much harder to take equality away once it has been established.  Needless to say, it will be very exciting to witness as events unfold.

We don’t have anything like this in our state — at least not yet.  So I want to tell you about my decision to stop signing marriage licenses, especially because it impacts this congregation.

About a year ago I heard the Rev.  Fred Small — a well-known folk-singer and now UU minister in Littleton, MA — talk about his decision to stop signing marriage licenses.  I confess I was unimpressed.  I was even a bit arrogant about it.  “What good will that do?”  I asked.  It won’t influence a court.  It is unlikely to influence a legislator, unless they come to you to get married.  It will only hurt the people in your congregation who need you to marry them.  And let’s face it, it’s not like the anti-gay lobby and the anti-gay politicians will be quaking in their boots when they hear that a UU minister is refusing to sign marriage licenses!  You won’t hear any of them saying, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming!”  It’s not an action that exerts a lot of political pressure.  Part of the reason I felt this way is because I had been involved in Love Makes a Family, a grassroots coalition working for  marriage equality in Connecticut.  I had been watching their leaders and their lobbyists make strategic decisions about how to exert political pressure.  I had been learning quite a bit from them about how to build an effective movement, about how to win.  They won domestic partnership benefits for state employees.  They won co-parent adoption.  I was very impressed.  They hadn’t identified the refusal to sign marriage licenses as an effective strategy to advance the legislative battle in our state.  In fact, they said, it might even turn off some of the clergy from more conservative denominations who had agreed to support us at great risk to their careers.

Through the course of the year, my thinking began to change.  First, I became aware of gay and lesbian colleagues who were refusing to sign licenses, not because they were trying to make a statement about justice.  Rather, they were refusing to sign because it was too painful and insulting to perform weddings for heterosexual couples and sign the licenses when they themselves couldn’t legally be married.  Pain and insult experienced by colleagues and friends — I was hearing something I suppose I knew was there all along, but I hadn’t listened deeply until this moment.

My position began to change even more when I began reflecting on this strange United States custom by which states authorize clergy to sign marriage licenses, and in a quite blatant way, blur the lines between church and state.  This is very important:  there are two kinds of marriage, legal and religious.  Legal marriage is what enables a couple to obtain what I call the civil rights of marriage.  There are 588 rights afforded by our state to married heterosexual couples.  Only five of the state rights are offered to same-sex couples if they fill out special paperwork.  That, too, was a battle that Love Makes a Family won during the spring 2002 legislative session.  There are over 1,100 rights afforded by the federal government to married heterosexual couples.  Very few of these rights can be obtained easily and without great legal expense by same-sex couples, yet their needs in terms of inheritance, raising children, sharing property, hospital visits, end of life issues, health benefits, family discounts, family tax credits, and on and on and on, are exactly the same.  Long-term committed partners of gays and lesbians who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks have not been allowed to claim any money from the vast collections that were taken up in the wake of the tragedy and are now managed through the federal government.  Yet, heterosexual partners of 9/11 victims who were married just days before the attacks have been able to receive money.

Why clergy are allowed to sign marriage licenses on behalf of the state I have no idea.  It may have just been a matter of convenience, or a hold-over from the days of Puritan theocracy in old New England.  It doesn’t tend to work that way in most European countries where, when a couple wants to get married legally, they go to the appropriate governmental office and obtain a marriage license.  Then, if they want the second kind of marriage, a religious marriage, they go to the church or the synagogue, or the mosque, and the marriage rite (R-I-T-E) takes place.  Religious marriage seals the union in the eyes of God or Yahweh or Allah or the Sacred or the Most Holy or the Spirit of the Life.  It has nothing to do with the state.  It has nothing to do with the civil rights (R-I-G-H-T) of marriage.

Because religious and legal marriage are combined in the US, many people have difficulty understanding that the same-sex marriage movement is only about legal marriage.  It has no interest in asking any religious body to change its practices when it comes to religious marriage.  And yet, so many of the arguments against gay marriage that you hear at the legislature or in testimonies in the courts are religious in nature.  “Because the Bible says so! Because it’s an abomination, see Leviticus, see Paul.”  When you take the religious argument away, there really is no argument against gay marriage.  If you read the dissenting opinions of the Massachusetts judges, you see them really struggling to say why gay marriage is wrong, but they know they can’t base it on religious grounds, so they make vague statements about not having enough data, about letting the people decide, about the extent of the court’s authority, about historical norms.

These reflections helped me to see even further that it makes sense to refuse to sign marriage licenses.  Take the clergy out of legal marriage and let us just focus on religious marriage.  I think this would really help opponents of gay marriage to understand that this is about equality and civil rights; it is not an attack on religion.  I will certainly continue to perform wedding ceremonies for both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.  And I will sign the religious certificate of marriage.  But until we have marriage equality in Connecticut, I will not sign the legal certificate.   I will not participate in a form of state-sanctioned discrimination.

The final event that changed my mind about this issue happened over the summer, when Pat Anderson and Deb Walker came to me and asked me to perform their wedding, which will take place here on December 17th (see the November newsletter for details).  Deb and Pat will be my first wedding as your parish minister.  I was honored.  And it dawned on me:  If I sign marriage licenses for straight couples, but not for gay and lesbian couples, then I really am allowing our congregation to perpetuate second class membership for gays and lesbians.  That is, the minister provides one package of services for one group, and another package of services for another group.  My conscience can no longer sanction this.  The pain and insult have lodged too deeply in my heart.

It’s not that I don’t want heterosexual couples to receive the benefits provided by legal marriage.  I do.  By all means, go to a justice of the peace and get your license signed.  But also recognize the immense privilege that you receive as a married heterosexual person — or even as a divorced heterosexual person, since some of those civil rights of marriage enable a clear and unambiguous legal termination of a relationship.  Recognize the discrimination.  Recognize the mis-use and abuse of power.  Recognize the vast denial of civil rights to one segment of the population.  Remember that marriage laws used to turn women into property, and they were changed by people who cared about justice.  Remember that marriage laws used to prevent interracial marriage, and they were changed by people who cared about justice.  So much for historical norms!  Recognize, remember, and then join in the struggle in whatever way possible to make sure that all citizens of every state receive equal treatment under the law.

I told our Policy Board in September that I had decided to no longer sign marriage licenses.  They supported me, but also asked that I not make this statement in public until I had had an opportunity to preach about it to you first.  This I could do.  This felt very much like shared ministry.  From this day forward, I will say to any couple who asks me to perform their wedding, “Yes, however I will not sign the license issued by the state.”

One of the assumptions Unitarian Universalists embrace is the notion that revelation is not sealed, but open and continuous.  Truth is not sealed, but open and continuous.  We UUs tend to understand from a spiritual perspective the way in which values like freedom and equality are applied historically in limited ways, and we tend to notice, from a spiritual perspective, that this limited application breeds injustices, that there is always room to expand the application, always room to let more people in, always room to tweak and improve on democracy, civil rights, civil liberties.  In religious traditions where revelation is sealed — delivered once to a great teacher or prophet — and written down in unchanging, unerring language, it is difficult to embrace an expansion of the human family; it is difficult to imagine a wider application of values such as freedom and equality.  Such traditions always try to fit the world into a box.  Anything or anyone who doesn’t fit is deemed other, depraved, flawed, evil, damned.

Unitarian Universalists approach things differently.  We have a box, to be sure, but we are much more willing to fit our box to the world.  It was as late as the 1980s that Unitarian Universalist congregations were still struggling with how to welcome, embrace, and empower gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people, let alone work for their civil rights.  But the genius of a liberal faith is that it stays open to new possibilities.  It is in a position to hear the moanings, the rumblings, and the protests of those who find themselves outside the box, outside equality, outside democracy.  We can hear because we believe that revelation and truth are not sealed.

Although this decision to refuse to sign marriage licenses has been my decision to make as an ordained minister, it is my fondest hope that we understand it as our collective protest of injustice; as our collective statement, along with other Unitarian Universalists and other liberal religious and non-religious people in Connecticut, that gays and lesbians are full members of the human family, that they deserve the same rights and benefits afforded to heterosexual people, and that this struggle, like all justice struggles, will be won by those who know that new truths emerge, new possibilities arise, new messages are available, revelation and truth are not sealed.

Amen.  Blessed Be.

Tying a Ribbon Around the Church

It was the Fall of 1992, and I had just arrived in Portland, Oregon, to take my position as the new Senior Minister of First Unitarian Church.  At the time, Ballot Measure 9 was raging in the state — it would have denied civil rights to gays and lesbians.

Measure 9 would have added the following text to the Oregon Constitution:

All governments in Oregon may not use their monies or properties to promote, encourage or facilitate homosexualitypedophiliasadism or masochism.  All levels of government, including public education systems, must assist in setting a standard for Oregon’s youth which recognizes that these behaviors are abnormal, wrong, unnatural and perverse and they are to be discouraged and avoided.

Kathy Oliver, the Executive Director of Outside In, an agency for runaway teens on the block of property owned by the church, came to me with a bold suggestion:  let’s wrap the entire church block with a red ribbon and declare the area a “hate free zone.”  I immediately knew that this was a genius of an idea, and said yes.

As I remember, I informed the Board but did not ask permission, nor did I engage the congregation in conversation about whether or not to take this action.  Other Unitarian Universalist churches in the area had been active in the “No on 9” campaign, and I knew many in our church were of that mind as well — but the main reason I acted on my own accord is that of course it was the right thing to do, and the vote was coming up on November 4, so time was short.  Gays and lesbians were suffering not only emotionally, but some had been the victims of physical violence, and so they were fearful of being attacked.  I remember standing in the receiving line after a church service and holding in my arms a gay man who was weeping, grateful that the church had made a safe place for him.

Kathy and Outside In volunteers strung a red ribbon around the entire block, and Kathy called a press conference.  All manner of media showed up:  newspapers, TV, radio.  I gave an interview, as did Kathy and a few congregants.  Our Women’s Alliance, composed of older women, happened to be having their monthly meeting at the time, so they cancelled their program and showed up on the sidewalk behind the church to give their testimony to the press — lots of white-haired and highly respectable ladies stepped up and spoke to various members of the press.  It was a great day.  The ballot measure went down in defeat, but it was closer than it ever should have been:  43.5 for, 56.5 against.

Of course similar public conversations about homosexuality were taking place in other areas all over the country, and the church received many requests, asking how our event had been imagined and created — such questions as, “How do you wrap a block? What about the doors?” (Answer:  the ribbon goes above the doors.)  Our action (without social media, of course) went all over the nation and other churches copied what we had done.  It has become an iconic act.

Another consequence of our action was unexpected:  the church grew 40 percent that first year of my ministry, as gays and lesbians throughout the city flocked to us for spiritual sustenance.  They were joined by progressive-minded individuals who couldn’t have imagined a church that would take such a stand.

We tried to be welcoming to all who walked through our doors that year, but we didn’t have the infrastructure to assimilate the standing-room-only crowds that showed up.  So we struggled, with most congregants being glad of the growth, but some others resenting the changes that came so quickly.  We needed to raise more money, and we did.  We added another service, and then eventually still another, so for 5 years we held three full services each Sunday, until we renovated a building on our block to handle the new members and visitors.

Consider the times:

  • In 1992, no one was using the acronym LGBTQ+ — LBG was beginning to be used to replace the term “gay.”
  • In 1993, President Clinton signed a military policy directive prohibiting openly gay and lesbian individuals from serving in the military.
  • In 1996, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, banning federal recognition of same-sex marriages.
  • In 1998, Matthew Shepard was beaten, tied to a fence and left to die.

Conducting Services of Union

Prior to the legalization of marriage

During the 1990s while I served May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society in Syracuse, I did many services of Holy Union for gay and lesbian couples.

Most of the lesbian services were small, often the couple and two friends, and had deeply painful histories that brought them to me for their wedding. There were far too many women who said their families had disowned them, or that a father would kill her if he knew she was lesbian.  I knew this was not just a figurative threat by her father, and neither did she.  I did way more preparation of the room where the ceremony was to take place to make sure their wedding was beautiful, meaningful and affirming.  I cried a lot before and after so many of those Holy Union Services.

One wedding, this one a large one with a lot of friends and family in attendance and held in the sanctuary at May Memorial.  A soloist sang, “Somewhere” during the service and I honestly do not know how I managed to finish the service.  It will remain the most powerful and impactful moment in a wedding that I ever did.

One lesbian service of Holy Union was between two teachers and held in a public venue with two men as their attendants.  If anyone peeked in, they would have thought it was a double heterosexual wedding.  At one point a balloon burst and everyone ducked and felt the terror of someone shooting at us.  Once we realized it was just a balloon, we all breathed a sigh of relief.  But the realization of what we felt and feared hit us hard.

Two of the gay weddings I did were with one of the men living with AIDS. Within six months I was doing their Memorial Services.  Those were so hard to do because I knew what was ahead, and yet they were determined to celebrate their love with beautiful wedding ceremonies.

Gay and Lesbian Divorce Form

Be it known that on October 28, 2000 Rose ________ and Harriet ________ were joined in Holy Union by the Rev. Dr. Elizabeth M. Strong at May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society in Syracuse, New York.

Let it be known that on this day ________________ in the year _____________________

Rose ________ and Harriet ________ dissolved their Holy Union by divorce.

The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth M. Strong
51 Roslin Street, Dorchester, MA 02124

Gay/Lesbian Wedding Ceremonies

Assembled by Elizabeth Strong in the 1990s

OPENING WORDS

1)     Friends, we are gathered here at this hour to witness and to celebrate the coming together of two separate lives.  We have come to join these two, to be with them and rejoice with them in the making of this important commitment.  The essence of this commitment is the taking of another person in (his)(her) entirety as lover, companion, friend.  It is, therefore, a decision which is not to be entered into lightly but rather undertaken with great consideration and respect for both the other person and one’s self.

2)     Love is one of the highest experiences that we human beings can have, and it can add depth of meaning to  our lives.  The sensual part of love is one of life’s greatest joys, and when this is combined with real friendship, both are infinitely enhanced.  The day-to-day companionship–the pleasure in doing things together, or in doing separate things but delighting in exchanging experiences — is a continuous and central part of what people who love each other can share.

3)     This is a time set apart
apart from the ordinary and the routine
apart from the ongoing rush of life;

This is a time set apart in the lives of these two people —
a time for reflection and commitment
a time for beginnings and promises
a time of celebration —
a time which they have invited us to share.

This is a place set apart —
apart from the familiar and the commonplace
apart from the swirling currents of humanity.

This is a place set apart for the gathering
of this unique community of persons —
a place for welcomes and remembrances
a place for witnessing and sharing
a place of celebration —
a place which we, together but once,
can call our own for these few moments.

Welcome to this sacred space and to this special time in the lives of ________________________and ______________________.  We have come together to witness their marriage, and to acknowledge the commitment they have made to one another and to celebrate the joy of this occasion with them.

4)     We are here to take part in an event which is at once, one of the most public and one of the most private in all of human experience.

A wedding, as a private moment, requires the intimate commitment of two persons to one another, — it is an act of communion between their spirits that no one else is privileged to share.  A wedding, as a public event, is a declaration made to all those who gather to witness it — a celebration in which family, friends and community all participate.

5)     We gather to acknowledge and celebrate a new life – the life ______________and _____________ have created from the joining of their own individual lives.  This joining has already taken place.  Now, as their love and commitment has deepened there is born a desire for a ceremonial acknowledgement and blessing of this love.  ____________and _____________, we are delighted to be a part of this ceremony.  This company of family and friends has already shared much with you; they know you well;  they love you and wish you every happiness.

6)     We have come to this place to unite __________________and ____________.  Marriage is an institution which can only become real in the lives of two people.  This celebration is but the outward sign of such an inward union of hearts.

_____________and ______________, in presenting yourselves here today, you are performing an act of faith in each other–a faith which will grow and mature and endure.  If you would have your love set on such faith, not just at this moment, but in all the days ahead, then ever cherish the hopes and dreams you now hold.  Resolve that love not be dulled by the commonplace nor blurred by the mundane in life.  Faults will appear where now there is satisfaction; talents will fade in bleaching experience; wonder will flatten in the rituals of daily living — but devotion, joy and love can remain, as you build them together.  Stand fast in hope and confidence, believing in yourselves and believing in each other.  In this spirit you can create a union which will radiate to one another and give new hope and strength to all who watch your quest with joy and love.

HOMILIES

1)         ________________________and _____________________bring two unique personalities and spirits to this relationship.  It is the strengths of these individual personalities and spirits that has given their relationship a strong foundation.  On that they have built a trust and respect of one another.  They bring dreams which inspire them.  They challenge one another on a daily basis to strive to be the best they can be, both as individuals and as partners.

Strong as they may be, there are always outside forces that try to diminish the importance of their life together.  We are here today to share their joy and to pledge our support of them, not only as individuals but as a couple.  We rejoice with them as an outward symbol of the union of their hearts — a union created by friendship, respect, and love.

2)      This ceremony symbolizes the intimate sharing of two lives, yet this sharing must not diminish but enhance the individuality of each partner.  A union that lasts is one which is continually developing and one in which each person is individually developing, while growing in understanding of the other.  Deep knowledge of another is not something that can be achieved in a short time, and real understanding of the other’s feelings can develop fully only with years of intimacy.  This wonderful knowledge of another person grows out of really caring for that person so much that one wants to understand as completely as possible what the other is feeling.  Thus, it is possible to share not only joys and successes but also the burden of sorrows and failures.  To be known in this way is a priceless thing because such understanding and acceptance make it easier to live with our problems and failings and worries.

3)     On this day of your union, you stand somewhat apart from all other human beings.  You stand within the charmed circle of your love, and this is as it should be.  But love is not meant to be the possession of two people alone.  Rather, it should serve as a source of common energy, as a form in which you find the strength to live your lives with courage.  From this day onward you must come closer together than ever before, you must love one another in all adversity. but at the same time your love should give you the strength to stand apart, to seek out your unique destinies, to make your special contribution to the world, which is always part of us and more than us.

4)     Ask most people why they marry the person they do, and they’ll tell you, “She’s/He’s the first one who called me on everything.”  all the things you tried to get away with in the past, all the games you designed and mastered for the express purpose of keeping people at arm’s length were, it turns out, all just a weeding-out process, a search for the one person who doesn’t fall for it – the one who can sidestep your tricks and see right through you.  And, ironically, you’re not upset.  In fact, you’re impressed.  You think, “Wow, good for you.”  And the message goes forth: “Okay, no more calls, we have winner.”

So, you learn to accept each other.  Your best behavior is now and forever reserved for outside the house and once you’re inside, you’re free to be the person you really are.  There’s a tacit understanding.  “I know all about you and you know all about me and it’ll be all our little secret.”

You become a little team.  And you look out for each other.  Now and forever, it’s the “two of you.”

from “Couplehood” by Paul Reiser

VOWS AND RING EXCHANGE I

__________________and ___________________, you have chosen one another as life partners.  Knowing what you know of each other, and trusting in what you do not yet know, are you now ready to be married?

WE ARE

They have spoken their wish.  Will you, their family and friends, honor and pledge them your love, support and acceptance?

WE WILL

I,________________take you,________________, to be my spouse,  the companion of my days.  I proclaim my love for you.  I proclaim my trust in you.  I am happy to be a part of you.  Remember, these words from my heart will always be true, now and forever. With all that I feel, here is my love for you. We shall keep together what trouble and sorrow our lives may lay upon us, and we shall share together our store of goodness and plenty and love.

I,________________take you, ________________, to be my spouse, the companion of my days. I proclaim my love for you.  I proclaim my trust in you.  I am happy to be a part of you.  Remember, these words from my heart will always be true, now and forever. With all that I feel, here is my love for you. We shall keep together what trouble and sorrow our lives may lay upon us, and we shall share together our store of goodness and plenty and love.

What pledges do you offer that you will fulfill these vows?

THESE RINGS.

The circle is the symbol of the sun and the earth and the universe.  It is the symbol of wholeness and of perfection and of peace.  The ring is a symbol of unity into which your two lives are now joined in an unbroken circle, in which, wherever you go, you will return unto one another.

I,_________________________, take you,_______________________, as my beloved, to protect, love, respect, and cherish for our lifetime together. 

I,_________________________, take you,______________________, as my beloved, to protect, love, respect, and cherish for our lifetime together.

Wear these rings as a symbol of your union and as a sign to all the world of your love for and devotion to one another. Each time you look at your rings, remember all that you have pledged to one another this day.

VOWS AND RING EXCHANGE II

Do you,_______________ take,______________, as your life partner, to share with (her)(him) all the wonders life has to offer, through the good times and the bad, through laughter and tears, as long as you both shall live?

I DO

Do you,________________  take,____________, as your life partner, to share with (her)(him) all the wonders life has to offer, through the good times and the bad, through laughter and tears, as long as you both shall live?

I DO

May these rings be forever the symbol of the unbroken circle of love.  Love freely given has no giver and no receiver — for each is the giver and each is the receiver.  May these rings remind you always of the vows you have taken here today.

As a sign and symbol of our union, I give you this ring to wear forever. (place ring on finger)

As a sign and symbol of our union, I give you this ring to wear forever. (place ring on finger)

VOWS AND RING EXCHANGE III

I,_____________  take you,_____________ as my spouse, to be no other than yourself.  Loving what I know of you, trusting what I do not yet know, I will respect your integrity and have faith in your abiding love for me, through all our years, and in all that life may bring us.

I,____________ take you,_____________ as my spouse, to be no other than yourself.  Loving what I know of you, trusting what I do not yet know, I will respect your integrity and have faith in your abiding love for me, through all our years, and in all that life may bring us.

The rings you are about to exchange are a symbol of everything your marriage is to mean to you:  the giving of each to the other, the value in which you hold each other.  They are an outward symbol of a promise, freely given, each to the other.

I give this ring as a symbol of my love for you.

I give this ring as a symbol of my love for you.

DECLARATION/PRONOUNCEMENTS

1)         Since, ______________________and _______________________have vowed to be loyal and loving toward each other, formalizing in our presence the existence of the bond between them, we bear witness to the ceremony they have performed — the ceremony that symbolizes their union, and recognize their marriage before the community.

2)         Now have you, _____________and you,____________, in the presence of these friends and loved ones, declared your confidence that upon the foundation of your love you can build a worthy home.  You have solemnly promised to live together in the sacred experience of marriage.  You have given and received rings and in so doing have declared your marriage to exist.  We, here gathered, bear witness to this declaration, and recognize you as married.

3)         And now that you have spoken the words and performed the rites that unite your lives, we do hereby in conformity with ancient custom declare your marriage to be valid and binding.

4)         In as much as these two persons have freely promised, in our presence, to live together in the relationship of marriage and thereto have engaged themselves in the giving and receiving of rings, I, therefore, ministering in the name of my free religious faith, affirm and celebrate their commitments and call them married.

CANDLE LIGHTING

(Couple step forward, take two burning candles, and use them to light the third, larger one.)

As these two flames merge to form a newer, stronger source of light, and yet continue to burn, each with their own special brilliance, so may it be with your lives.

WORDS FOR WEDDINGS WITH CHILDREN/h3>
_________________and _______________, your child(ren) is/are with you today.  They (He/She) represent(s) a major portion of each of your lives.  With your new status as a married couple, your child(ren) acquire new status.  This is not only a great joy, but also a great responsibility.  Thus, it seems good and right to have you make another promise today.

Will you both use your new relationship with each other to provide for this (these) child(ren), a home that is stable and secure, loving and supportive, which, as they mature, they will be able to grow in strength, self-respect and intelligence, and which they will remember with warmth and affection?

WE WILL

PRAYER AND MEDITATIONS

1)         We are thankful for the sacred and tender ties which ________ and __________have now taken upon themselves.  May all their loved ones, here assembled or in absence remembering them, ever continue to rejoice in the bonds which have united them.  May the inspiration of this ceremony abide throughout their lives.  May they hold firm those things to which they have pledged themselves.  May they be comfort and joy, counsel and strength to each other through all the changes and chances of the world.  Hand in hand, heart with heart, and united by one soul, may they walk together along the pathway of life in faith, hope and love.

2)         Let us unite in prayer.  God, giver of life and love we give thanks for the celebration of marriage that we have gathered to consecrate this day.  We each bring to this sanctuary; to this ancient and holy ceremony, the hopes and dreams we hold for all who love.  May this union between _______and _______be blessed by God with love, honesty, reason and passion.  May the days of this marriage increase constantly in joy and fulfillment.  For together, here in the presence of love and of those who love, we honor the consecration of two lives, once apart, to a greater vision of their lives together.  May God bless you and keep you.  May you walk always in the paths of love.

LOSING WORDS/h3>
1)         May the blessing that rests upon all who love, rest also upon you and fill you with all spiritual grace.  May the bond that unites you ever be strengthened.  May you so love and work together in the days that are to come that your lives shall be enriched and ennobled by a true and deepening companionship of mind and heart.

2)         With a perfect and abiding confidence, with a trust and affection which knows no limitation — I send you forth upon your journey of life — to laugh for joy, to suffer pain; to seek, to serve, to find.

3)         Now and forever may both of you be united in love and harmony;
Now and forever may both of you share your moods and dreams with loving care.
Now and forever may both of you keep trust in each other, constant and deep.
Now and forever may you find joy in life and warm contentment as life partners with one another.

4)         Look to this day,
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of your existence:
The bliss of growth;
The glory of action;
The splendor of beauty;
For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision;
But today, well lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness, and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.

— Sanskrit

The First Out Lesbian and Gay Unitarian Universalist Ministers

Singing for Our Lives

The First Out Lesbian and Gay Unitarian Universalist Ministers[1]

Celeste DeRoche

ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEWS

I set out to interview the first LGBT[2] Unitarian Universalist ministers and the non-LGBT people who helped them achieve these settlements.  The first filter I used was to search for those clergy who were out through their first search and settlement.

I interviewed lesbian and gay ministers who were ordained much later, chronologically, but had important information to contribute to this story.  And I interviewed gay people who were not able to be out at the start of their careers and were willing to talk about what that experience was like.

Clearly there are many strands to this history.  When I started this project I thought it could include the first bisexual and transgendered UU ministers.  By my second interview (hat tip to Mr. Barb Greve) the magnitude of my original focus became clear. It was time to add a second filter to the research.  While I would gladly collect what information I could, I had to limit my research to lesbian and gay clergy. The stories of bisexual and transgendered ministers would have to wait to be collected. This was, in part, because so many of their stories were too raw, too current, and still too fluid. (One bisexual minister gently declined to be interviewed saying it was still “too dangerous” to speak openly.)

In addition to telling their own story of their particular path to ordained ministry, the themes and issues each interviewee related were varied and wide ranging with of course interesting overlaps and intersections within both Unitarian Universalism and the wider culture.  The following is not meant to be an exhaustive description of the content of the interviews but here is an overview of some of the issues addressed.

Several of the interviewees were students at Starr King, located in the Bay Area of California, when Harvey Milk and George Moscone were killed by Dan White.  They attended the large memorial march and vigil held in front of City Hall in San Francisco and had clear memories and stories to relate of that event.

Charlie Kast had a unique perspective and experience.  Before leaving Kalamazoo, MI to attend Starr King seminary he had been a regular contributor to Gays Week, a weekly newspaper for the gay community in that midwestern city.  When the deaths occurred in San Francisco, the editor “…called me and said, “Would you go into San Francisco and interview people at City Hall.”  And I got to sit in Milk’s office.  Oh, man…  I sat in the office, no bigger than this {gestures to his living room} but what sank into me was when Dan White came into kill him {Harvey Milk} there was not an exit.”[3]

These out UU ministers were coming into ministry in the earliest years of the AIDS epidemic (1984/1985).  Kim Crawford Harvie’s interview is especially searing in its description of what these years were like in Provincetown and the crucial role the UU church played in the lives of gay men.  At many points the only two people the gay community could turn to were Kim and one funeral director who was willing to accept the bodies of men who had died from AIDS.  When Charlie Kast left the UU Church of Lexington and went to the Second Unitarian Church in Chicago, IL, ministry to people with AIDS was a large part of the work he did with that congregation.

At the same time the Office of Gay Affairs (fortunately soon changed to the Office of Gay and Lesbian Concerns) was beginning. The Welcoming Congregation was developing.  This first group of ministers was critical to these developments.  They were also active with the MFC.  Many of the interviews speak to the active denominational activities each of these ministers sustained.

Interviews with UUA past presidents and administrative staff give detailed accounts of the pivotal role the Department of Ministry and the then Extension Department played in pushing congregations to grow and recognize the talents and skills of lesbian and gay ministers. Interviews with David Pohl and Chuck Gaines illuminate the same time period of the first group of out ministers.  Then David Pettee’s interview provides a compelling overview of the change over time for lesbian and gay ministers and especially for congregations.

The importance of Beyond Categorical Thinking is discussed extensively in the interview with Jacqui James.  Just about all of the ministers interviewed mentioned the importance of this program and strongly urged me to interview Jacqui so I was relieved and delighted that I was able to reach her.  Her interview is key context for this history.

And just as key, I think, is much of the timeline material Keith Kron was able to provide for both the evolution of the Welcoming Congregation curriculum and also the Office of
Gay and Lesbian Concerns.

It is important to note the difficulties that these earliest ministers encountered.  Barbara Pescan and Ann Tyndall had a particularly difficult experience with Community Church in New York City, which all these years later can continue to teach us.  Likewise, Gene Navias’s interview and the 50-year Reflections he offered on his years of ministry also offer much insight into realties we like to think are behind us.

My original plan had been to collect and transcribe interviews and archival research, work them into a manuscript, and then deposit the research with the Unitarian Universalist Archives at the Andover Harvard Theological Library. The vision for the manuscript has been to present these experiences over modest layers of both United States and Unitarian Universalist cultural histories for the period.  Skinner House folks have been encouraging all along. The interviews I can do are completed. I am depositing them at the Archives. The middle step, the manuscript, I offer to other scholars.

Since 2007, my ability to do this work has been eroded. I live with a chronic brain illness. I am told that each of the 13 brain surgeries I’ve had has affected my cognitive abilities like a major concussion. I am no longer able to sustain the work. It has taken time for me to accept these limitations, to admit that I cannot complete the project as hoped. And I am mindful that these interviews are too important to be languishing, pun embraced, in my closet.

It has been a privilege to be entrusted with the experiences told in these interviews. I am grateful for the courage, grit, and vision in each one. As I hand them off, I hope scholars and saunterers will find themselves well met in these stories. I hope, also, that UU’s will continue to fund the scholarly collection of primary historical documentation toward the goal that we tend well our living tradition.

Celeste DeRoche, Ph.D

APPENDIX:

The first out ministers and their settlements are:[4]

1980 Mark Belletini, Starr King Church, Hayward, CA

1980  Douglas Morgan Strong, All Souls UU Church, Augusta, ME

1982  Mark DeWolfe, Unitarian Congregation in Mississauga, Mississauga, ON Canada[5]

1984  Barbara Pescan, Beacon Unitarian Church, Oak Park,IL

1985 Kim Crawford Harvie, UU Meeting House of Provincetown, Provincetown, MA

1985  Lindi Ramsden, 1st Unitarian Church of San Jose, San Jose, CA[6]

The following is a chronological list of all the interviews completed:

6/24/08  Scott Alexander

6/25/08  Mr. Barb Greve

2/09/09  Meg Riley

2/09/09  Rob Eller-Isaacs

3/21/09  Charlie Kast

4/05/09  Chuck Gaines

5/02/09  Barbara Pescan and Ann Tyndall

5/12/09  John Buehrens

5/13/09  Bill Schulz

            5/14/09  Kay Montgomery

            5/16/09  Barbara and Bill DeWolfe (parents of Mark DeWolfe)

5/18/09 Kim Crawford Harvie

5/19/09  Gene Navias

5/20/09  David Pohl

            6/04/09  Wayne Arnason

9/16/09  Douglas Morgan Strong

5/16/11  Michael Nelson

            5/25/11  David Pettee

            5/26/11  Keith Kron

5/27/11  Jacqui James

5/31/11  Jory Agate

            2/22/12  Lindi Ramsden

4/24-25/13  Anne Odin Heller

Ongoing List of Interviews needed:

 As I was working, I kept a list of people who ought to be interviewed.  There were names discovered through the archival research.  I was also given names by the interviewees.  I hope folks who read this will have names to add.

Jay Deacon

Lucy Hitchcock

Diane Miller

Charlotte Cowtan

Dee Graham

Ken MacLean

Bob Schaibly

Tom Owen-Towle

ARCHIVAL RESEARCH

Then there are the ancestors.  The first out ministers stood on the shoulders of people whose stories can only be retrieved through archival research and I wanted to include the folks whose papers I accessed.

Mark DeWolfe

Jim Stoll

Richard Nash

Frank Robertson

Phebe Hanaford Coffin

Carl Seaburg

Charles Vickery

Richard Hasty

Bob Wheatley

These records are stored at the Andover Harvard Theological Library in the UUA Archives.

[1] This project was funded in part by the Fund for Unitarian Universalism and a [UU Women’s Federation] Margaret Fuller Grant.

[2] This conversation began in July 2007. My language of organization and focus reflects terms in use at that time.

[3] Interview, Charlie Kast, 3/21/09, pg. 8.

[4]As this is an involving project, it is hoped that people will add additions and corrections to this timeline.

[5] Clearly not interviewed for this project, Mark DeWolfe needs to be mentioned as his settlement falls within the parameters of this project.  He was spoken of often by many of those interviewed as a classmate and dear friend.  His loss is acutely felt.

[6] Lindi was the first out lesbian minister settled on the West Coast.

Book Review: The Gay Revolution

The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle. Lillian Faderman. New York: Simon and Shuster, 2015. 816 pp. $11.99 (Kindle). $27.63 (cloth). $20.00 (paper).

My grandfather Umberto loved opera. And he taught me to love opera. “This is YOUR music,” he would tell me after taking me to see Madame Butterfly. “Love it.”

And so, over my teen years I found that, unlike any of my peers, I actually did love opera. But as I grew older, my taste diverged from that of my grandfather. More contemporary operas embraced me with their magic. Both the San Francisco opera, in California where I used to live, and the Cincinnati opera, in Ohio, where I live now, offer some of these gems every year. From John Adams’ Nixon in China or A Flowering Tree, to Sir Michael Tippet’s Midsummer Marriage, or Alban Berg’s Lulu and Wozzeck, I fell for the music of the modernist and post-modernist zeitgeist.

Here in Ohio, I often introduce friends to these “odd” operas by taking them to performances as my guest, as my grandfather once took me. Recently, the Cincinnati Opera premiered a new piece, Fellow Travelers, with exquisite music by Gregory Spears and a deft libretto by Greg Pierce. Set in Washington D.C. in the 1950s, the opera is about a gay man who comes to work in the State Department at the height of “the McCarthy Era.” Senator Joseph McCarthy is an actual character in the opera. The young gay man finds love, heartbreak, and betrayal. And familiar political memes from Communism to Richard Nixon thread themselves through often modal music, sounding sometimes like what many would identify as “sacred” music.

The friend who accompanied me is a student of music, a musician himself, a singer, and a composer. He is in his early twenties, one of the friendly baristas in my favorite café, but also a concert companion for unusual music. He was delighted to see “a musical premier.”

As we talked while driving home, however, I realized something that bewildered me. My friend and I had seen two entirely different operas. As a non-gay person, he spoke technically of intervals and harmonies. He mused on the musical quotations of John Adams’ percussive style throughout Spears’ score. I, on the other hand, a gay man of a certain generation, saw my very life on that stage — one of love, heartbreak, and betrayal. I wept frequently during the piece, moved by the interfused stories of the opera and my heart.

I praised the composer when I met him in the lobby afterward, for his music was gorgeous and moved me deeply. The deeper truth was that I could not much distinguish his troubadour-inspired music from my own emotion-elevated breathing. It was all of a piece.

Lillian Faderman’s book, The Gay Revolution, affected me in the same way. It wasn’t in any way like reading a biography of Channing, or of Queen Isabella Sforza of Transylvania. After all, I never met them. But I told my friend Doug that my shock upon reading this book was to note how many of the people in the book I had unexpectedly met in my remarkably fortunate decades as an adult: Harvey Milk in his camera shop; Troy Perry at a conference; Sally Gearhart at a funeral; Cleve Jones here in Ohio after a talk; Cecil Williams many times; Huey Newton, with whom I had sat many times at the Buttercup Café in Oakland sharing morning coffee; and Andrew Sullivan, a good friend of Doug whom I mentioned earlier. And, though I never met him, I sustained a moving email correspondence about “love” among gay male friends with Larry Kramer.

And of course, there was the Unitarian Universalist minister Steve Fritchman. When I read in Ms. Faderman’s book that he invited the homophile Mattachine Society to hold a large conference in the Los Angeles Church some 63 years ago, I raised my hand, exclaiming “Way- to-Go-Steve!” But it was my own memory that supplied the visuals: Steve’s bobbing, bald head, when he preached a downright side-splitting Installation Sermon for Peter Hans Christiansen in 1977.

So I found myself personally in The Gay Revolution, even as I found myself personally in the gay opera, Fellow Travelers. That opera portrays a page of my life, and this history portrays pages in my life. Both provide unique experiences for my heart. And, unlike any other history book I’ve read recently, I’ve lived within the context of this book. I have lived inside “the gay revolution” long before the book was written, as undoubtedly did the author, who was born in 1940. For example, I originally heard the story of the Stonewall uprising as oral history, a first-hand account from a man named Jerry in the San Francisco congregation. He had watched the whole thing from his window just across from the action…a play-by-play he told me with the vividness of an film-maker.

I also remember conversations with John Kyper, a New England Unitarian Universalist who spent some time in San Francisco and came to our church there. It was he, confirmed my Canadian gay and lesbian friends, who tried to bring print editions of Boston’s Gay Community News into Canada in his car and was banned from ever coming to that country again. Local GLBTQ folks in Canada, outraged, found in that embarrassing event the spur to help create, in that great nation, a more just society for sexual minorities—and to re-open the border to John.

There are other Unitarian Universalists mentioned in the book, although the word Universalist never actually appears. I cannot be sure if the author even knows much about UUs. Her way of talking about us suggests that she sees us as a capital C Church, a denomination of Christendom, not an Association of self-governing congregations without a common theology.

But even in a book of 800 pages, I was surprised to find any mention of us at all. We are religious small-fry in this majestic history. This is true of most religious institutions. There is no mention of Bill Johnson, a gay man ordained to the ministry in the United Church of Christ long before I was ordained. Although the Episcopal Church figures more prominently than we do, there is no mention of the late and in influential gay priest Malcolm Boyd, whom I met in 1979 the day before preaching a “coming out” sermon at the Mt. Diablo Church in Walnut Creek, California. After I told him what I was going to do the next day, he tenderly kissed me and laid his hands on my shoulders, to bless me in my task. A great encouragement to me.

Some religious organizations do appear throughout this book. On the positive side, there is the effective Council on Religion and the Homosexual. On the negative side, there are the loud protests against same-sex marriage offered by religious conservatives. But Unitarian Universalists are not major players in this book, and it is only at the hour of the same-gender marriage ruling by the Supreme Court that our presence in this history becomes more significant; even then, it is muted.

If we are not mentioned much, it may be because our attitudes toward same-sex realities of all kinds developed alongside those of other religious groups, and not far ahead of secular struggles. I am always amazed when folks who have only been part of our congregations since the 1990s imagine that our attitudes toward same-gender marriage, or ministry, were always open and affirming, all the way back to William Ellery Channing or Olympia Brown. This is not true. Even though Unitarians were not burdened with the millstone of an uncritical interpretation of Leviticus/Vayyiqra or the New Testament book of Romans, it was a several decades-long struggle for most of our congregations to accept gay or lesbian leadership, especially in the ministry.

After I had been turned down by several of our congregations, specifically for that stated reason, the Rev. Diane Miller, Interim Senior, invited me to be her Assistant Interim minister, since a congregational vote was not required. “You have to get your shoe in the door…this will be on your resume now. It can make a difference to search committees to see that you served well for almost two years.” It did. Bless Diane. And San Francisco, my first congregation, ordained me in 1979, with my partner at the time, Phil Porter, dancing joyfully on the chancel. I officiated at my first gay “union,” or marriage, as we say now, a month later.

But just as in society at large, the emergence of positive attitudes toward sexual minorities among UUs took some time and involved years of deliberate support from people we now call “allies” paving the way. Many colleagues, like Tom and Carolyn Owen-Towle, expressed their support early on. But institutionally, it began with Rev. David Pohl and Rev. Chuck Gaines, at “Headquarters” in Boston.  They took seriously the unhappy experiences of those of us folks searching for settlement at the very beginning of those years. We shared these unhappy experiences with each other first. We met on Sunday afternoons during football season, so we amused ourselves by calling ourselves The Fruit Bowl. Lucy Hitchcock, Charlie Kast, Barbara Pescan, Anne Tyndall, Anne Heller, Lindi Ramsden, and I were the mainstays, as I remember. Search committees that had interviewed us, and sent us packing explicitly for that reason, had asked frustrating questions: “Won’t calling you as our minister turn us into a gay church where the rest of us would feel uncomfortable?” or “That’s all you’ll really be talking about, right?” or “How can we possibly explain that you have a same-sex lover when our church hosts the interfaith Thanksgiving Service?” We decided to respond to these questions thoughtfully, despite our aggravation, and together, we crafted careful pastoral answers. Revs. Pohl and Gaines made sure a cleaned-up copy of our responses went out to all search committees in advance. It was an amazing and supportive thing to do. A small, but concrete step that ultimately led to affirmative programs.

These gestures of support, for the group of us wanting to serve in the Unitarian Universalist ministry, proved to be the small, hidden seeds that eventually blossomed into the open culture that we experience today, where many of our congregations delight in their lesbian or gay ministers, having called them without hesitation. There are still some hesitations about bisexual and transgender ministers, but even in cases such as these, there is notable progress.

The Gay Revolution made clear to me that what we did in our Association mostly paralleled what was going on in society. Small seeds planted, sometimes in very hard soil, eventually grew and produced the more accepting culture we now celebrate. Though the 2016 election results give me pause, I believe we must remain positive about what has been achieved.

We Unitarian Universalists were not leading the revolution by any means, but wrestling with these issues at the same time that progressives among Episcopalians, the United Church of Christ, the Society of Friends, and Jews in the Reform, Humanist, and Reconstructionist traditions were engaged in the same process. I remember the jolt I felt when I read the progressive Methodist student publication, Motive Magazine, which offered the first religious writing to affirm homosexual realities in the church that I had encountered … back in 1971! We Unitarian Universalists had begun conducting gay weddings as far back as 1958, but this was done secretly (see Jeff Wilson, JUUH, vol. 35, pp.156-172). We eventually made faster, more universal progress, but we hardly left our fellow religious progressives in our dust. We practiced our principles, respecting the worth and dignity of every person, and we struggled to understand. As The Gay Revolution has made clear to me, it is the struggle that has made our gains real.

Ms. Faderman’s historical approach is to tell discrete stories about individuals in their local communities. Some of these people are well- known even to generalist historians—Harvey Milk and Del Martin, for example. Some of them, however, are unfamiliar, even to me, who studies this history often. The stories are remarkably balanced, featuring women and men, people of various ages and ethnicities, woven, story by story, into a majestic overview of the last seven decades.

In structure, Faderman’s book does not resemble any historical study I have read. She supports her storytelling with a collection of well-researched sources that are cited in the endnotes, which make up nearly a quarter of the volume. Her focus is sharp and close, so that the stories come across as intimate, like chamber music rather than the complex sweep of an opera. Each story she relates centers on one, or at most, two figures in the grand procession of years. As I read, I often felt as if I was in the room with someone mimeographing a newsletter, or protesting in front of the White House on a hot summer day long before the Stonewall event. The stories are all connected by the vector of a time-line, but each section could almost survive on its own. Certainly, I found her prose both clear and flowing, enjoyable to read for how she said things, as well as for what she said.

Some of Ms. Faderman’s statements proved to be at odds, however, with what I learned when I subsequently researched them. Her description of what the psychologist Albert Ellis said about homosexuality at a psychology conference differs from his own and other reports of the event. It is clear to me that Ellis, like so many others of his generation, saw same-gender attraction as pathological early on, changing his mind only later.
Its certainly possible he remembered the date of his transformation as having occurred earlier. But I do not think the incident is a clear as Ms. Faderman makes it.

In any case, it is clear that it took a lot of work, by a few courageous psychologists (one of whom hid his identity to protect his career,) to get the various professional associations to remove homosexuality from the category of psychological disease.

No history book is exhaustive. So its no surprise that some stories in this one are consigned to footnotes, like the contributions of Edythe Eyde (aka Lisa Ben, a clear anagram for lesbian). Lisa Ben gets a fuller treatment at an Instagram site, @lgbt history, which I found helpful on other occasions as I was reading this book. Despite Faderman’s editorial decisions, which I do not dispute, I was pleasantly surprised by how many stories of the struggle she did assemble into the pages of this volume.

What surprised me repeatedly was how so few people accomplished so much. Such people included brilliant professionals, like Frank Kameny, an astronomer who was foolishly fired by the government when his sexual orientation became known. Despite this blow, Kameny was indefatigable and single-handedly went on to accomplish what would seem like the work of ten. And though the Stonewall riot has now achieved mythic status—so that the name of the bar is enough to convey
the significance of the events that occurred there—Faderman rightly clarifies that it was the prior work of many small groups of folks, again and again confronting New York City of officials, that ultimately made the street rebellion so effective. Moreover, the thousand small steps that emerged after the riots led eventually to the second March on Washington in 1987 with 700,000 or so participating, according to police estimates.

One other thing I noticed as I read these stories was the extent of conflict and disagreement that marked the relationships between folks involved in the struggle. Many of these individuals, both women and men, did not particularly like each other, or they became easily irritated or resentful over strategies. Some, it seems, were ahead of others in their vision, or saw their needs differently, and conservatives chafed against those who appeared to be more radical. There has been similar conflict today. Resistance to same-sex marriage has not been confined to religious fundamentalists; some gay men and lesbian women continue to vocalize their distaste for the whole concept, and not for religious reasons. And, while some resist the idea of marriage due to philosophical objections, others maintain committed relationships, while refraining from legal marriage as part of a general trend in which marriage is seen as an unnecessary formality.

Faderman’s preface refers to the many identity labels that have been added to the titles, “gay,” or “gay and lesbian,” assumed by the Stonewall generation. She offers the most recent acronym LGBTQQIAAP, or Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Allies and Pansexual. And though her book includes transgender episodes, Faderman points out that including the T in the acronym LGB was initially resisted by many gay men. Since this book was published, events such as the passage of anti-transgender rulings in North Carolina have raised new awareness of transgender issues. Finally, there is scant mention of the more fluid and ambiguous gender identities embodied particularly in the conversational lives of younger generations today. Faderman’s simple title, “gay revolution,” is based on her idea that while every generation prefers its own terms, ranging from the Sexual Invert of Havelock Ellis, to the Homosexual of nineteenth-century sexologists, “gay” endures as the tent that includes them all. Her argument for this is part of an ongoing conversation that may never be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

In my last year in California, I saw another gay-themed opera: Harvey Milk. I had marched with 30,000 others on the evening after Milk’s death, so this opera was as emotionally charged for me as Fellow Travelers had been. The opera’s accurate portrayal of Milk’s political career, which concluded tragically with his assassination, is made more poignant by its opening. Harvey’s mother begins the opera by teaching him as a young boy about the light of Sabbath candles. The opera concludes, after Harvey drops from the bullets shot by Dan White, with his mother returning to the stage holding the Sabbath candles. She is followed by hundreds holding similar candles, a re-enactment of the original candlelight march in which I had participated long ago. At this point in the performance, I could not control my weeping. Then, when I left the theater to take the subway home, I was undone to see thousands of people holding candles, walking down Market Street outside the door of the opera theater. I had unconsciously chosen to see the opera on the anniversary of Milk’s death, when every year, that candlelight walk is performed as a ritual of honor and remembrance. All at once, I realized, with tears, that history, art, and my life were, to quote May Sarton, “wound and bound together, and enflowing.”

As I finished my first reading of Ms. Faderman’s beautifully written book, I found the power of those two operas echoing in her words and once again experienced that trilogy of history and art fused with my life. This book certainly won’t produce that feeling for every reader, as my barista friend made clear to me … but to sexual minorities of a certain generation, it probably will.

Rev. Dr. Mark Belletini
Minister Emeritus First Unitarian Universalist Church, Columbus OH

Launching the Grassroots Continental UU Rainbow Movement

Although UUs had been officially engaged in working for gay, lesbian, and bisexual rights since the 1970 General Assembly resolution to end discrimination against “homosexuals and bisexuals,” it wasn’t until 1985 that the grassroots movement of queer UUs became a national/continental presence. That February 50-100[1] LGB UUs (others not yet acknowledged) and a few allies gathered in Houston at one of the few UU churches served by an openly gay minister. It was a watershed moment that launched a new grassroots movement to end homophobia and promote the acceptance of LGB UUs as members, lay leaders, and ministers.

If you were there, you may remember that the leaders of the recently re-formed UUs for Lesbian and Gay Concerns—Carolyn McDade and Doug Strong—led an opening program called “Kindling Our Common Spirit.” On Saturday morning, Bob Wheatley, director of the UU Office of Lesbian and Gay Concerns for the past seven years, shared his experiences and his ideas about possible paths forward, in a presentation called “On Ground Hogs, Unicorns, and Other Mythic Creatures.” Four facilitators (Dorothy Emerson, Diane Neumann, Walter Gorski, and Paul Culton) then led a provocative discussion on “Our Right to Selfhood: Unlearning Homophobia.” Later that afternoon, after a series of workshops, the facilitators led a group process to envision our next steps: “Towards a Common Action—Sharing Visions and Strategies.”

Saturday evening featured a keynote talk by noted author Judy Grahn, “Another Mother Tongue: Gay Words, Gay Worlds.” And then a celebratory dance. It was such a joy to finally be together!

Bob Schaibly, minister of First Unitarian in Houston, gave an inspiring sermon at the Sunday morning service, acknowledging the historic nature of our gathering and welcoming us all to the church. That afternoon, the conference concluded with “Carry the Light,” another group process to help launch the next phase of the movement towards full acceptance and inclusion of us queer folks in UU life and the wider community.

The one controversial issue that arose concerned the need for lesbians to have women-only space and time during the convocation. To understand why this was important, we need to remember that at first the “gay” movement was led primarily by gay men. At the 1984 General Assembly, when I first became involved with the leadership and goals of the movement, I was shocked to discover that very few, if any, women were involved. I should not have been surprised, since most things at that time were male-dominated and many still are today. 1984 was the year that women ministers reached the threshold of 15% of the UU ministry, with the numbers boosted by the inclusion of Ministers of Religious Education. Our influence as women was just beginning to be felt, with different voices demanding to be heard.

At the biennial Women’s Federation gathering the year before, UUWF had recognized that for lesbians to be fully included in women’s groups, work needed to be done to address homophobia. I brought that agenda to the meeting of what came to be known as UUs for Lesbian and Gay Concerns, previously UUs for Gay Concerns. I objected to the focus in 1984 of passing a resolution to affirm the practice of clergy performing Services of Union for same-sex couples. Many women at the time objected to the patriarchal nature of marriage and were less than enthusiastic about focusing on marriage rights. Then I learned about the plans for a gathering and discovered that women had not been involved. Someone decided I should be added to the planning group, since I was in the Boston area where they were holding their major planning meeting.

Having come from a background of feminist organizing, I advocated for women-only space at the convocation, but the men voted it down. So, I felt gratified when women at the gathering insisted and signed a petition demanding women-only space at this and all future gatherings. A gay male participant (Stephen Storla) recalls an announcement at a general session of a woman-only space being designated. He had never heard of that before but understood it after it was explained. He understood what the men on the planning committee did not, that women needed safe space to empower ourselves to engage in this work against the male-dominated structures of our society and faith community. My participation on the planning committee resulted in the selection of a lesbian keynote speaker and the inclusion of lesbian voices in the workshops and discussions. And after the convocation, there was a general recognition that lesbians needed to be a visible and active part of future organizing.

The significance of this first gathering of UU LGB folks has not yet been fully explored. My goal in writing this piece is to encourage others who participated in this gathering to share your stories. What do you remember about the discussions and workshops? (If you took notes, please share them.) What were the results of the various discussions and group processes? How did the convocation affect you? What changes did you see as a result of this gathering?

Please send any memories or recollections that you have to coordinator@uurainbowhistory.net.

[1] Estimated

The Education of a Hayseed in Academia

I became a Unitarian Universalist in 1963, a few years before Stonewall, but my contribution to the Rainbow History Project is about my life not in UU settings but in academic ones. My story begins in the late 1950’s when I was an undergraduate at Indiana University and Vice President of the campus YWCA.  We called our staff advisor “Appy,” a sign of our affection for her.

Suddenly, after neither warning nor consultation with us student leaders, the YWCA Board fired Appy.  We had no idea why, and the Board didn’t say.  They hired someone else right away whom we soon also loved along with her often present husband Bob, whom she affectionately referred to as her “Old Sock.” We called her “Solie,” and went on with our busy student lives. We didn’t question the Board’s decisions.  But soon a rumor began to spread that Appy had been fired because they found out she was a homosexual. (We didn’t use language like “lesbian” or “gay” in those days.) I had no idea then and still don’t what was in fact Appy’s sexual orientation, or Solie’s either for that matter.

Soon came a follow-up rumor that the YWCA President, known to all as “Phyd,” was also a homosexual. I liked Phyd a lot and loved sharing YWCA leadership with her.  I will always remember the moment when somebody told me she thought Phyd was a homosexual. I remember that moment because it was the only time in my whole life when I hauled off and smacked somebody hard in the face.  I was that mad at anybody who would dare to tar Phyd with such an untrue and insulting allegation. You might call this opening piece of my story “Before.”

Having left Indiana University with two degrees, I began my professional life teaching in the English Department at Kent State University. One of my best friends there was my colleague Dolores Noll. She and I ate lunch together often, and we were part of a small coterie of English faculty who got together for frequent weekend parties.  On May 4, 1970, our whole Kent world was turned upside down by the National Guard shootings on our campus and everything that happened in the wake of that horrific day.

Maybe one of the things that happened was that people were no longer willing to keep quiet about what they knew to be true.  One day not long after the killings, my friend Dolores asked me to come over to her place. She wanted to tell me about the conference she had just attended in Washington, DC. When I went to see Dolores, I learned that in Washington she had attended not just one conference but two. One was a conference for English professors specializing in her field. The other was a conference of gay men and lesbians. By telling me this, Dolores was coming out to me, something that I had never experienced before. But she wasn’t finished with what she had to say. The conference had started her thinking about how there were surely many gay and lesbian students at Kent State who were in the closet. Certainly none was out. And Dolores kept thinking about how much pain those closeted students surely were experiencing and how much value she could be to them by providing an empathetic listening ear.

She had thought about this a long time. She didn’t yet have tenure in the English Department, so her position was really not secure. Nonetheless, she had gone to see Ken Pringle, the kindly chair of our department, to let him know what she was about to do. And now she was also telling me. She was about to write a letter to the editor of the Daily Kent Stater coming out to the whole university and inviting any students who would value honest conversation about their lives to get in touch with her.

She told me she wanted to let me know about this ahead of time because she didn’t want me to be tarred with the brush that would soon tar her. She was telling me that she would fully understand if I chose from then on to distance myself from her.  Dolores was breaking my heart. I think I spent more time in public with her after that, not less.  It delights me now to be able to report that Dolores Noll went on to be a trailblazing GBLTQ activist not only on the Kent campus but in the state of Ohio and nationally through the Modern Language Association as well as national GBLTQ organizations. In any event, you could call this piece of my story “During – Part One.”

“During – Part Two” also happened at Kent State University in the early 1970’s.  My special teaching area was creative writing, and my standard classroom method was that students read aloud in class what they had written and then we all discussed what we had heard. I gave quite a variety of writing assignments, but it was common for me to invite writing about some sort of personal experience.

One day one of my best students came to see me in my office. She wanted very much to write on the kind of personal experience I had suggested, and she wanted to write with candor. But – and now she let me know that our conversation was more in the nature of a confessional than a student-professor conference – she could not write what she wanted to write and needed to write if she had to read it aloud to the class. She let me know then that she was a lesbian. She was a student in the College of Education, and she was about to do her student teaching. If anyone found out she was a lesbian, she would not be allowed to student teach. She might even be denied her degree as well as her potential livelihood.  And the thing was that she still did want people to know her story.  She appealed to me for both understanding and help.

Together we hatched a plan. She wrote something innocuous for the class assignment, which she did read aloud and which the class did discuss. But that was not the basis for her grade.  Her grade, which of course was “A,” was based on a totally different, totally honest, response to my assignment, which she wrote for my eyes only.

But we did something else besides as a way of getting her truth out in the world.  At that time I was teaching a non-credit course in the Honors College in the field of Women’s Studies. I recorded my student reading out loud what she had written, and then I took the recording to a friend in the Speech Department, who altered the voice on the recording so that it was completely unrecognizable but still clearly understandable. I played the recording for my Women’s Studies class, and I recorded their discussion of it, so that I could then take that recording back to my student. Although she was unable to participate in the class discussion, she was at least able to listen to it. When I gave the original assignment – even though I had learned an enormous lot from my friend Dolores Noll – I was still quite clueless about the implications of what I was asking of my students.  You might call this part of my story “During – Part Two.”

After I left Kent State in 1978 and practiced law for three years, I went back to academia as Director of Writing and Research at Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco.  The faculty, staff, and student body at Golden Gate included many gay men and lesbians. I can’t imagine anybody was in the closet there. And if there was any discrimination based on sexual orientation, it certainly wasn’t noticeable.

When I moved to San Francisco in 1981, I rented a flat on 19th Street, one block off Castro. Walking down Castro Street from the Castro-Market subway station to 19th Street was a delight for the senses, not just the fabulous scents of food and coffee but the perpetual music and fun. People had a really good time in the Castro, especially on holidays. I remember the 4th of July when I saw a group of nuns coming down the Hartford Street hill outside my kitchen window, and then as they went past I saw they had bare behinds. In short order I learned about the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.  In those days I wrote long letters back to my friends in Kent, Ohio, that I called “Epistles from a Hayseed in the Castro.”

But the Castro in those days was not exclusively a place for fun and frolic.  Harvey Milk had been assassinated not long before I arrived. I soon learned that the shop on Castro Street where I bought eucalyptus oil had been Harvey Milk’s camera shop.  And then in the window of the drug store at the corner of 18th and Castro appeared a poster with a big photograph of somebody’s arm with a close-up of a very ugly sore. The words on the poster said, “If you have something that looks like this on your body, go to the clinic right away.” Some of my colleagues at the law school were beginning to do research on AIDS. They were not only interested in legal protections for people who were HIV positive or who were living with AIDS or dying from AIDS. They were interested in researching every possible cure that anybody could think of.

My world was now just about as full of gay men and lesbians as it was of straight people. I might be tempted to call this piece of my story “After,” to say that my education was by then complete. But that would not be the truth.

There was a student in the law school whom I paid no particular attention to, that is, until I began to notice that his appearance was somehow changing. At first I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it was something about his hair. Maybe his hair was a little longer than it had been. And it seemed to have more curl than before, or at least more wave. It looked like he had not just combed his hair in the morning, but maybe he had been to a stylist. Then his clothing changed too, ever so gradually. And then one day it was clear that nearly everything about his appearance had changed. Then he changed his name too. And I started worrying in a big way about this woman whom I had long understood to be a man. How was this law student who used to be a man and was now apparently a woman ever going to get a job practicing law? I truly don’t know what became of that student. I do know that I learned that for this student of the world as it is, there is no piece of my story that can properly be labeled “After.”

Golden Gate University is a private school.  When the law school dean discovered how serious was that school’s financial problem, he determined to help solve it by eliminating the position of Director of Writing and Research. I had been there four years. By that time I had come to love the world of San Francisco and its people so much that I wanted to stay. At that point a new organization came to exist called the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. I applied to become its Executive Director, and I was honored to be granted an interview. I did not get the position, however, and eventually I did leave San Francisco and go on to teach in a very different sort of law school at the University of Florida. And eventually I left there to become a full-time student again at Starr King School for the Ministry.

Education never ends. The seminary is a seed bed for new learning to grow. And every congregation, I hope, is also a seminary. There is no part of my story to label “After.”

 

 

 

To Love and to Cherish, For Better or For Worse

Unitarian Universalists of the Cumberland Valley
October 3, 2004
© The Rev. Judy Welles

Invitation to Worship

Christopher Lemelin, Worship Associate

Three years, three months, three weeks, and three days ago, I became real.  When I calculated that time period, I knew exactly what I would say this morning—the magic in those numbers was unavoidable.

Three years, three months, three weeks, and three days ago, I became real.

You’re probably asking, “What do you mean, REAL?  What is REAL?”

In the children’s story The Velveteen Rabbit, the Rabbit asks this same question of the Skin Horse, the wisest of the nursery’s inhabitants, who was “so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and… the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces.”  Only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse” understand nursery magic, that strange and wonderful, free and careless logic of pure hearts.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse.  “It’s a thing that happens to you.  When someone loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.  “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse.  “You become. It takes a long time.  That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.  By the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby.  But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Three years, three months, three weeks, and three days ago, I became real.  That was the day that Mike and I committed our lives to each other; that was the day I knew someone REALLY loved me, and not just to play with; that was the day I knew nothing else mattered except REAL LOVE.

Come, let us worship together.

Readings                        Letters to the Editors of Newsweek
in response to the July 7, 2003 issue “Is Gay Marriage Next?”

“I have been married to the same man for 30 years and it is because I hold marriage sacred that I wish to see it available to gay people.  The right to stand up in public and make binding promises to one’s beloved is absolutely core to equality.”

” …I am a member of a traditional, nuclear family:  a heterosexual male with a wife, two kids and dog and a four-door sedan.  Conservatives approve of me today, but 30 years ago, they would have cast me out in the cold along with the gays, because my wife and I do not share the same skin color.  Perhaps someday social conservatives will realize that they don’t need to destroy other people’s families in order to protect their own.”

“Congratulations on your July 7 cover story, “Is Gay Marriage Next?”  We shudder to think of the venom-filled letters you will get, and are dismayed that our fellow Christians use their religion to justify hate and judgmental attitudes.  We sit in the pews, too, and are the proud parents of a committed lesbian daughter and daughter-in-law, eagerly awaiting the birth of their first child so they can begin their family.  There are millions of parents like us who love their gay and lesbian children and celebrate that they have found people to spend their lives with.  Isn’t this every parent’s dream?”

“My partner of 20 years and I have attended each of my brother’s three weddings.  During each one, he has openly wished that the sanctity of marriage that he enjoys could extend to us, while we have hoped that our understanding of the principles of marriage would finally be learned by him.”

Second Reading          An Open Letter to President Bush

February 24, 2004

Dear Mr. President,

This morning you felt compelled to introduce an amendment to the Constitution of the United States defining marriage as existing only between one man and one woman.

You say that this will create “clarity.”  I would like you to share this clarity with my first-grade daughter on her school playground, when the children, imitating their role models as they always do, will take up the issue.  Because I dread those conversations with every fiber of my being.

Challenged by another child, my daughter will declare forthrightly that of course her two moms are married.  After all, we have wedding photos in our home, as any couple does.  They show her two moms, fifteen years ago, in front of our Unitarian Universalist Congregation.  Smiling, with many of our friends and family members around us.

You see, we have not yet discussed with this seven-year old, precocious as she is, the distinction between civil and religious marriage. She knows only that we are her parents, the only ones she’s known.  She knows that we got married in our church, as her aunts and uncles did, and that our neighborhood and church, her school and social circle, involve a significant number of kids with two moms and a few with two dads…

Of course, she knows that there are people who say that two men or two women cannot be married.  She knows that, not very long ago, some people said that no one could marry someone of a different race, but now of course we no longer believe that.  But I haven’t yet been able to break it to her that some people want to change our Constitution to say that our family isn’t part of “We the people.”.  I just haven’t found a way to fit it in between soccer and karate and church.

Tonight, I will sit her down, after we’ve done her homework, and have the conversation that I hoped I could avoid.  I will tell her that you, the President of the United States, have decided that only a man and a woman can be married, and that you want to make that part of our Constitution…  I will tell her that I don’t believe this change in the Constitution will happen, not enough people will vote for it. But it does mean that people may say very mean things to her at school about our family.  She will be afraid.  I will project confidence and good humor, but I will be afraid, too.

I do not want to teach my daughter that the President of the United States does not include our family in the people he serves and protects.  I do not want to say to her that the very flag she loves will be waved by people who believe that it does not belong to our family.

Please, Mr. Bush, tell me how I should conduct myself “without bitterness or anger” at this time, as you instructed me today.  Come over to my house tonight: you look at my daughter’s eyes as they absorb the fact that you, the first President she has ever known, think she can no longer be included in the very Constitution of this land.  You tell me how to “conduct this difficult debate in a matter worthy of our country.” Because I am at a loss.

Sincerely
The Rev. Meg A. Riley, Unitarian Universalist Association, Washington, DC[1]

Sermon             “To Love and to Cherish, For Better or For Worse”

Perhaps you’ve heard that on Thursday the House of Representatives emphatically rejected the federal Marriage Amendment.  I wasn’t too worried.  I don’t think this amendment has a snowball’s chance in Heck of ever passing, even if it somehow manages to get through Congress.  If we couldn’t pass the Equal Rights Amendment, they will never get this bigoted and unfair amendment through the states.  Even legislators who oppose gay marriage don’t think it’s a good idea to fiddle with the Constitution this way.

And I just learned this morning that legislation has been proposed in Spain which would make it legal for gays to marry and adopt children.  Apparently, it has a good chance of passing.  This would make Spain the third country to legalize gay marriage.

But this issue is really less about legality and more about feelings, and the feelings cut very deep.  The issues here are fear, bigotry, civil rights, prejudice, fear, love, hatred and fear.  What we hear most when we pay attention to the rhetoric against marriage for same-gender couples is that “the institution of marriage must be protected.”  And I’ve always wondered, “Protected from what?  What’s the problem if two men or two women want to get married and enjoy the same civil and legal rights as heterosexual couples?  Where’s the harm in that?”  It has never made sense to me.

This summer I decided to find out, and I sent a request to a woman I met on the Internet through a gardening forum.  Although we’re not supposed to discuss politics or religion on this forum, it was easy for me to tell that she was the polar opposite of me in both areas.  But she was also articulate, funny, and kind, and I thought we might actually have a chance at an electronic conversation about the issue of gay marriage.  I asked her to explain to me what the problem is, from her standpoint as a traditional Christian.  And I promised her that I would not try to change her mind.  That seemed only fair, since I was absolutely sure that there was no way on earth that she would change mine.

So she sent me a bunch of references, and I dutifully read them all, tightly clenching my teeth the whole time.  It’s amazing what absolute lies are told in defense of prejudice!  And I quickly realized that there was no way I could even respond to my garden forum friend; there was nothing I could say with any integrity that she would not experience as insulting.  There was nowhere to go with her on this topic except directly into a fight, and I didn’t want to do that.

But I haven’t been able to let go of it either — to let go of the injustice of it all, and to let go of how upset I am about it.  I thought that preaching a sermon might force me to think things through clearly and articulate what I believe the problems are.  Maybe I can help you to understand where your more traditional friends or acquaintances are coming from, should the topic come up for you.

As I said, a lot of the arguments put forth against the right of same-gender couples to marry have to do with fear.  Fear of losing something, fear of having something taken away, fear of being forced into something.  This is really important to remember:  hatred and bigotry are often masks for the deeper, underlying feeling of fear.  In this case, it’s really a fear of change.  Yet the reality of life, perhaps the only true thing we can say about life is that everything changes.  Everything.  Change is inevitable.  And for some people, that in itself is very frightening.

One of the common arguments against gay marriage is that gays already have the same rights as everyone else, and there is a particular “gay agenda” which is asking for special rights and privileges.  Start with gay marriage, and the next thing you know we’ll have a resurgence of polygamy, the end of free speech, the destruction of the family, no separation between church and state, the breakdown of the rule of law, anarchy, the demise of society as we know it.  Some people actually believe this.

But let’s start with the first question.  Do gays already have the same rights as everyone else?   In one article published by “Focus on the Family,” I was stunned to read this sentence: “In fact, people who practice homosexuality have always been viewed equally under the law.”

Here’s a story about how equal it is to be gay:  About a year and a half ago, the Rev. Bob Wheatley, a gay Unitarian Universalist minister, had a massive heart attack at the age of 83 and was taken to Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.  His life partner of fifty-two years, Kenneth, was with him in the ambulance.

“Who are you?” the hospital demanded when Kenneth presented himself.  “I’m his life partner,” Kenneth said.  “You have no status,” they told him.  “We need the name of a relative to identify him and give us directions for what to do with his body.”

“I’ve been with him for 52 years,” Kenneth replied.  “He has no living relatives.” “Prove it,” the hospital staffer responded.  “He wanted to be cremated,” Kenneth said.

“You have no power to authorize his cremation.  You may be wanting to cover up evidence about his death.  We’ll put his body in the morgue until we get some reliable direction.”

There was not a lot of help to be found.  Bob had never given Kenneth power of attorney, made out a medical proxy, or any other legal document.  His will was inadequate to express his request for cremation.  Kenneth called a crematorium which said they couldn’t pick up the body until it was released by the hospital.  The hospital would not release the body.  Every day Kenneth went to the hospital or phoned. No, they would not release Bob’s body.  This went on day after day for over a week until the hospital gave in. They didn’t want the body there anymore, and they were willing to bend the rules.[2]

For the $40 that it costs to buy a marriage license in Cumberland County, heterosexual couples receive 1,049 federal protections, rights, and responsibilities that are denied to gay couples.  Some of these are:  making life-saving or life-ending medical decisions for each other without power of attorney or medical directives; inheriting each other’s estates without wills; co-habiting in public housing; the protections of divorce court when relationships end; obtaining legal U.S. residency if one spouse is not a citizen; tax-free dependent health benefits; jointly filing tax returns; receiving Social Security survivor benefits.

I might just point out that some — only some — of these “privileges” that gays are denied can, in fact, be arranged through drawing up expensive and complicated legal documents.  That is, if the couple are resourceful, educated, and financially secure.  But marriage inequality falls particularly hard on those living on the margins: the poor, less educated, immigrants, the elderly, the ill, and those otherwise most vulnerable.  So, this becomes not only a gay rights issue; it’s also a matter of blatant classism.

One of the frequent arguments about how gay marriage will destroy the family states that the children will be damaged. Another article found on the Focus on the Family web site makes the disingenuous argument that:

“It took a generation for inner-city families to fall apart after the government began issuing welfare checks to unwed mothers.  Likewise, creating counterfeit marriage will damage the real thing and put more children at risk.”

“Indeed, there is overwhelming scientific evidence that boys and girls not raised by both of their biological parents are much more likely to suffer abuse, perform poorly in school, abuse drugs and alcohol and wind up in trouble with the law.

“Only a callous, self-absorbed culture would create legal incentives to engage in immoral, destructive behavior with children as guinea pigs.  America must be better than that.”[3]

What this author is saying is that children who are raised in any family constellation other than their two biological parents (one male and one female) are statistically much more likely to be damaged.  (I found this particularly curious coming from the garden forum friend, who is herself a divorced single mother of eight children.  How could she possibly believe this?)  This premise disregards that those inner-city families which are falling apart are suffering under poverty, racism, violence, poor educational and health resources, and a host of other social disadvantages that threaten their future.  The constellation of their family probably has less to do with their potential to become fully functional adults than economics does.

Okay, they say that the family is threatened.  Let’s talk for a minute about real families whose parents are both of the same gender.  I want to tell you about a family I know.  Take a look at your Order of Service, which shows the cover of Newsweek magazine about a year ago.  The man on the left, Dominic Pisciotta, is almost family to me, as he is the cousin of my new son-in-law, Frank.  I’ve met this couple several times.  The other man’s name is Andy Berg; they live in Manhattan.

They are resourceful, financially comfortable, and well-connected — and of course, like many other issues having to do with life as a gay couple, this admittedly makes things somewhat easier for them.  A year or so after their civil union ceremony in Vermont, they found a woman who was willing to be a surrogate mother, and she became pregnant with their children, twins Olivia and Spencer.  Dom is the children’s biological father.  The babies were born a year ago last spring.  Though I’ve never seen them, I feel like I know Spencer and Livvie because I’m fortunate to be on the distribution list for baby pictures taken by the Daddies, and my daughter Katy and her husband Frank do a lot of babysitting for these twins.

I sent Andy and Dom a brief message a few days ago telling them I was doing this service and asking for any thoughts they had about being gay parents, and this was Andy’s reply:

“What can I say about being a same sex parent?  My life is about as “alternative” as any other parent.  I get up at 7 a.m. every day, even if I don’t want to.  I covet the phone number of my babysitter in an attempt to keep anyone else from stealing her on a Saturday night.  My heart aches as I leave for the office every morning as one, or the other, of my children comes running to the door with alligator tears yelling “daddy!” “daddy!”  I think about my kids all day long and share stories about them with my colleagues.  …I’m in awe of the idea that everything in the world is new to them, and I dread the day they’ll ask me a question that I can’t really answer.  I love to squeeze them and kiss them and carry them around on my shoulders, or cuddle them in my arms.  The sound of their giggles and screams make me melt.

“Has it been hard to be a same sex parent? Not really.  But it has made it clear that our society doesn’t value fathers enough.  When I’m out with the kids, someone inevitably says that I have a lucky wife, or that I must be giving her a break.  They constantly marvel at my ease with the twins and say that their own husband would never be able to go shopping with the kids or take the kids to a park by himself or feed the kids with such confidence…

“Am I worried that Spencer and Olivia don’t have a mother figure?  No.  They have two amazing grandmothers, lots of aunts, and a whole slew of heterosexual mommies who have become my friends, confidants, and support system over the last year and half.  Our babysitter is a woman and most of our neighbors are women.  There is no shortage of females in our lives.  Although I do think that poor Olivia — the only girl in a house filled with three boys — will most likely be falling into the toilet more often than she should be.

“Our kids have enriched our lives and our relationship with one another.  They’ve made our family complete.  They’ve altered our social life, totally redefined the idea of a beach vacation, and reminded us that it’s the little things in life that are so important.  Being a parent is the best thing I’ve ever done.  And I think that the fact that our children have two dads will only enrich their lives and hopefully give them a more well-rounded view of the world.”[4]

This is new territory in American culture.  We don’t have a lot of data yet on children who were raised in households with parents of the same gender.  It’s all anecdotal at this point, and there aren’t even that many anecdotes.  Last year at General Assembly I ran into Karl, whom I had known as a pre-teen at the Oakland U.U. church when I was in seminary, an active and involved kid who was being raised by his mother and her partner.  Karl is now in his mid-twenties, a college graduate living in L.A. and working in the film industry.  He’s articulate, committed to his Unitarian Universalist faith, heterosexual, opinionated… he seems pretty normal to me!

This matter of the potential damage that might occur to children raised with same-sex parents strikes me as misguided.  We need to be concerned about the children being raised by people who don’t even like them, or who don’t like each other.  We need to be concerned about children raised in households where there is violence, substance abuse, neglect, malnutrition.  That’s where the threat to the future lies — not with children who are raised in security by parents and extended families who love them and pay attention to them.  The number and gender of their parents is not nearly as relevant as many other factors.

And furthermore, think about how well-rounded these children will be who are raised in an environment of such diversity.  Just as with children in mixed-race families and communities, what they will learn by experience and observation is that there are many ways to be a family; that people can be utterly “normal” even if they don’t fit society’s narrow mold.  What better way for them to learn to appreciate the inherent worth and dignity of every person?

President Bush and others who support the Marriage Amendment say that we have to protect the hallowed institution of marriage, which has existed for thousands of years and is now suddenly under threat.  That argument doesn’t hold any water either, when you realize that the way we understand marriage is less than 200 years old, and if you figure in the repeal of the miscegenation laws (which prevented inter-racial marriages), then marriage as we know it has only existed since 1967.  The institution of marriage has been constantly changing and evolving, just like other human institutions.

Marriages were originally undertaken as a peaceful way to transfer property, consolidate power, and assure inheritance.  Love had nothing to do with it.  Marriage was a business arrangement, and the bride was a commodity, often with no more legal rights than a child or a slave.  Polygamy was common until the Catholic Church decided to support monogamy for its own reasons, probably to cut down on promiscuity and to control procreation.  It wasn’t until the Council of Trent in 1563 that the Church decreed that a marriage must take place in the presence of a priest and two witnesses.

And therein lies one of the current misunderstandings in the controversy over gay marriage.  People don’t make a distinction between civil marriage and religious marriage.  But there is a distinction, and it’s an important one.  Civil marriage is the legal contract that two people enter into which gives them the rights, privileges and responsibilities I mentioned earlier.  The marriage license is the legal document that confirms a civil marriage.  Religious marriage is the ritual whereby a community blesses a couple who are joining their lives by making promises to each other in public.  With language and ritual specific to the faith community, the union is acknowledged and celebrated.

In this country, it’s common for a minister to sign the marriage license, to certify that this couple is legally married.  Therein lies some of the confusion.  So it’s important to remember two things:  other people than ministers can conduct legal marriages (such as Justices of the Peace) and ministers can conduct marriages that aren’t legal.  That’s what I did for Christopher and Michael three years, three months, three weeks and three days ago.  That’s what I’ve done and Duane has done for several other couples, both in California and here in Pennsylvania, and we will continue to perform these religious marriages for same-sex couples regardless of the fact they’re not legal.  They aren’t illegal, they’re just not legal.  Some of my Unitarian Universalist colleagues will no longer sign marriage licenses until the legal right to marry is available to all couples, regardless of gender.  They will conduct a religious ceremony with all the bells and whistles, but the couple will have to find someone else to sign the license.

Because of the confusion between civil and religious marriage, one of the arguments that traditionalist conservatives are making against gay marriage is that if it’s allowed, clergy will be forced — against their religious beliefs, against their will — forced to conduct marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples.  This is absolutely absurd nonsense.  The state can never force clergy to perform sacraments that are outside of their religious system or tradition.  (It can’t force clergy to perform any sacrament at all, in fact.  This is none of the state’s business.)  But unfortunately, this argument against gay marriage is out there, and I’m sure some people believe it.

People believe what they want to believe, often regardless of the truth or the facts.  The issue of gay marriage is an emotional one, and while there are factual, historical and legal arguments in favor of it (and possibly against it, though the ones I’ve seen are pretty weak), ultimately this matter will be decided not on facts, but on public opinion, on emotion, on a collective understanding of what is right.

My gardening forum friend wrote to me “we do not have the right to do what is wrong. …The freedom we enjoy does not mean we are free to do anything we wish without consequence.  It means we are free to do what is right.”

Actually, I agree with her.  We do not have the right to do what is wrong, and it’s wrong to withhold rights from some citizens which are freely given to others.  It’s wrong to blame society’s failures on gay parents (or on single mothers, for that matter.)  It’s wrong to shame people about who they authentically are, and force them to keep secrets or tell lies about such an important aspect of their lives.  It’s wrong to deny to people the right to pledge their futures together, to raise a family together, to live publicly with the same commitments and the same social acceptance that the rest of us enjoy without even thinking about it.  It’s wrong  to say that some people can love each other, and other people can’t.

At the end of her e-mail messages, my gardening forum friend uses the verses from First Corinthians that appear as the epigram at the top of your order of service. “Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love.”  This sermon is done in solidarity and in love.

Let the people say Amen.

Closing Words   “Vows,” from An Epithalamion, by Tony Kushner

Conjunction, assemblage, congress, union,
Life isn’t meant to be lived alone,
A life apart is a desperate fiction,
Life is an intermediate business:

A field of light bordered by love,
A sea of desire stretched between shores.

Marriage is the strength of union,
Marriage is the harmonic blend,
Marriage is the elegant dialectic of counterpoint,
Marriage is the faultless, fragile, logic of ecology:

A reasonable system of give and take,
Unfolding through cyclical and linear time.

A wedding is a conjoining of systems in which
neither loses its single splendor and both are completely
transformed; as, for example:

The dawn is the Wedding of the Night and the Day,
And is neither, and both,
And is, in itself, the most beautiful time:
Abundant, artless beauty,
Free and careless magnificence.

[1]An Open Letter to President Bush” by Rev. Meg Riley

[2] Excerpted from testimony given before the Massachusetts Supreme Court, October 23, 2003 by the Rev. Eugene Navias, located on the UUA web site at http://www.uua.org/news/2004/freedomtomarry/ma_031023.html

[3] “Homosexual Marriage Arrives in U.S.,” Focus on the Family web site, May 17, 2004

[4] Andy Berg, personal communication

LGBTQIA Rights and Inclusion

In 1974, after the worship service in our Quad Cities (Iowa) UU congregation, a member approached me with a challenge: “Tom, thus far you’ve tackled every social justice issue except mine. I’m a gay man, and I invite you to become our ally. Let’s come out of our respective closets here in this mid-western parish!” And we both did. I preached a sermon on heterosexism, and together we launched an ongoing Gay–Straight dialogue. This pivotal passage, forty-five years ago, also emboldened me to conduct gay services of union, although I wasn’t brave enough to have them occur on our church premises.

When Carolyn and I arrived in San Diego in 1978, as co-ministers, it wasn’t long before we were approached by a long-time, core member. He told us he was gay, and we said let’s talk about what are we going to do together. We started a gay-straight group at First Church, which included lesbians, gays, and straights. We used ‘gay’ as the defining word as we were not yet courageous enough to use the word, ‘lesbian’.

These transformative conversations led to the beginning of GLO (Gay Lesbian Organization) as its own distinctive entity to serve the needs of our now growing gay and lesbian community.  A gay minister who had been asked to leave his church came to us and offered to help us grow. With his help, GLO began to hold their own worship/support experience every Sunday morning before the regular service. They requested it early so they could attend the regular service. Their services were held behind closed doors and drapes, as numerous GLO members weren’t “out” either to family or work associates. Confidentiality and safety were major concerns. One of the founding members of GLO, Helen Bishop, went on to draft the continental UUA program/handbook titled The Welcoming Congregation. Another leader, Chris Hassett, co-wrote a book with Tom in 1994 entitled Friendship Chronicles: Letters between a Gay and a Straight Man.

At this time, the AIDS epidemic broke out. We ministered to the sick wherever we were asked to be. Every Thanksgiving the church held a beautiful feast for AIDS patients and their caregivers.  Additionally, First Church reached out to friends and families of AIDS patients offering a loving, supportive, and tranquil setting for memorial services and celebrations of life. Ours was known by the gay community in San Diego as “The Church.”

During our tenure at First Church (1978-2002), numerous LGBT organizations met for meetings, conferences, and practice/performance spaces. Such groups included PFLAG, GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network), the Women’s Chorus, San Diego Men’s Chorus, later, the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus.

First Church also provided support and a safe haven for other spiritual groups dealing with sexual orientation issues. Today, it remains home to Dignity San Diego (the LGBT Catholic group) which holds its weekly worship services on our campus. And, as University Christian Church and other local congregations began their own discussions to become “affirming” or “welcoming” parishes, we, and our members, met with their lay and ministerial leadership to address spiritual and organizational concerns.

In the early ‘80s, a worship Sunday called “Wholly Family” became established as a yearly service. In these services all kinds of family groups participated, including always, a gay or lesbian family.  GLBT members have served on the Board of Trustees, have been RE leaders of children and youth of our community as Religious Education leaders; and have served since the 1980’s as ministerial and staff members.

Although “transgender” as a concept has been part of the church’s vocabulary for many years, few church members were aware of the struggle of one well-loved church family as they dealt with mom’s understanding that she was truly “he.” On a particularly meaningful “Wholly Family” Sunday in December 2001, two adults and their two children offered the entire congregation the gift of the struggles and commitment of redefining their family configuration. Their sharing gave congregants the opportunity to begin to appreciate the “otherness” of this most misunderstood aspect to “LQBTQ-ness.” They remain together as a loving family and as core leaders of First Church.

Today, following our ministry, First Church continues to make unflinching moves toward greater justice, compassion, and inclusion regarding LGBTQIA concerns.

In faith, hope, and love,

Rev. Dr. Carolyn Sheets Owen-Towle
Rev. Dr. Tom Owen-Towle

Here is a supportive testimony of a current leader at First Church:

I have been a member of First Church since 1992. First Church was the first place I ever felt totally safe in a majority heterosexual setting. It is the first place my beloved, deceased partner, then wife, Bonny and I could talk about and receive acceptance of support for our relationship. Because of Reverends Carolyn and Tom, my being a lesbian in a committed relationship was accepted and honored and I could be sad, be silly, be grieving, be needy, be applauded, be comforted, be honest, be all of me.

I know I don’t speak for myself alone but for all who were the “other” during Carolyn and Tom’s 24-year-ministry—for that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer person who tentatively stepped foot onto First Church’s campus. These straight, but never narrow, ministers gave us a place at a table we could only dream of—the great gift of their love and of helping me and us become “a part of” after years of hiding and being “apart from.”

Together, and in their individual ministries, they found ways to help our congregation explore “otherness” and support “oneness.” Because of their pioneering and support, this large and thriving 1000-member church has welcomed first gay; then lesbian and gay; then lesbian gay and bisexual; and finally lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning individuals and organizations. It is because of the Owen-Towles’ courageous vision and leadership that my church campus has become a safe place where all of us can share our gifts.

Jan Garbosky, member, First UU Church of San Diego (Church President, 2008)

 

The Journey of A Congregation

This is the story of a congregation coming to new understandings and new actions regarding lesbians, gay males, bisexuals, and transgendered persons. It began when two college students asked to give a Sermon on “The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name.” An ugly episode at a UU congregation involving two fine ministers who happened to be lesbians encouraged direct action on our part—General Assembly participation, workshops led by lesbians and gay males, sermons, community activity in support of them, careful scrutiny of our own workings as a congregation to be sure we were doing the right things, weekly newsletter articles for several years, and much else. The end result was a congregation fully committed to equal rights for all persons regardless of gender or sexual identity, and several staff people who are lesbian or gay male, with their sexuality not an issue in terms of their being called (two successor ministers) or hired.

Kenneth W. Phifer, Minister Emeritus
First UU Congregation of Ann Arbor

Here is a more detailed description of the congregation’s progression.

LGBT at Ann Arbor – A Further  Description

Ken Phifer

Personal

My first awareness of same sex love came in the Army, which may seem a bit late but reflects one of the many ways in which I was an innocent as a young person.  I recall that the word “queer” was a commonly heard insult, but it was directed broadly without any specific person being designated as whatever it was that a queer was, and I really did not know, nor at that time did I care.  I had very little sexual experience as a high school student, some with girls, a few with boys, but I was still a very naïve young man when I went to college.

Where I learned nothing about sex.  Indeed, it was the Army that provided the opportunity for me to engage in what is surely one of nature’s most delightful  experiences.  This was all heterosexual, as has been all my sex life since.  Truthfully, I did not think much about homosexuality, if at all, until a series of events made me aware of the serious disabilities with which gay males and lesbians had to live.

The first was a visit from one of my younger brother’s oldest friends.  This was in the fall of 1974.  He wanted to ask if my brother would reject him as a friend if he were to tell him he was gay, if my brother would think the friendship was based on this man’s sexual desire for him.  Never having discussed such a matter with my brother, I could only speculate, but my speculation was that my brother would still gladly be his friend, as turned out to be true.

But Kirk’s conversation made me aware as I had never been aware before of some of the difficulties with which people of a same sex orientation have to live.  I began to read and to pay attention to news items about this issue.  I paid closer attention to efforts by the UUA to establish an office at headquarters to deal with issues of fairness to same sex people.

Then a college friend I had not heard from since graduation in 1960 called me.  He was a photographer and had spent the years since we graduated in the Pacific Islands doing photographic essays on various Island peoples — brilliant and beautiful photographs and people.  He told me was back living in the U.S. and calling friends from college from whom he had hidden the fact of his sexual orientation to see if they were still his friends.  He would later tell me that every one of us was welcoming and supportive.  Once again, meeting a person and hearing him talk of his challenges pushed me into trying to learn more, and to figure out ways that I could be helpful in creating a more just society in which such people as Kirk and Fred could be welcomed and comfortable.

The Beginning at Ann Arbor U.U.

In late 1983, a college student approached me about doing a service on the theme of “The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name.”  She and another student, both lesbians, wanted to speak and wanted me to say something as well.  On January 8, 1984, we did that service.  It featured a reading from the trial of Oscar Wilde in 1895, music by lesbian songwriters and by Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky, and the three talks.  The prayer/meditation time was a piece by an anonymous gay male titled “Does It Matter?”

One of the students, Brandy, spoke of the power of music, and mentioned several lesbian song writers and what and why they composed.  She then suggested that even with the prejudice found in most religious communities, it was precisely in such communities that there was hope for the conversations between gay and straight people that can lead to a society without prejudice.  She singled out UU congregations and the principles that guide them as being particularly good places.  She is, 35 years later, still an active member of the Ann Arbor congregation, and a song writer herself.

The other student, Mary Beth, spoke movingly of the oppression that had  burdened her life — no marriage possible, difficulty in getting even partial custody of children after a divorce, denied entry into the armed services and denied security clearances, the jokes and jibes that are directed at any one suspected of same sex tendencies, the exile from churches and from families when a person comes out, and way too much else.

I spoke of the ways that Jews and Christians in their traditions had been biased against homosexuals, and reminded the congregation of the efforts by the UUA in  1970, 1973, 1977, and 1980 to set up an Office of Gay Concerns and to encourage congregations to undertake educational efforts to end discrimination.  In 1984 — after this service — the UUA GA passed a resolution in support of clergy who performed services of union for gay and lesbian couples, several of which I had already done.

I closed my remarks suggesting several things we might do: encourage schools to provide accurate information about same sex behavior in their sex education  programs, work for both political parties to have platforms supporting gay rights, call in radio talk shows and write letters to the editor, loudly protest anti-gay TV shows, and “go right on caring for our children or our parents, our sisters or our brothers, our friends or even strangers who come out of the closet to us.”

Mostly for the next several years we did educational work in the form of occasional forums, occasional newsletter pieces, joining gay pride marches and other events, and finding material for our religious education classes that would honor the same sex experience in the same way as the heterosexual experience.

In the mid-1980’s, our congregation was busy trying to become a sanctuary church for refugees from El Salvador, which became a reality in June, 1987.  That summer we brought the Rodriguez family to live in our carriage house at the church, safe at last.

The Common Vision Committee

It was five years before we became actively involved in LGBT matters again, the hiatus largely due to two factors.  One I have mentioned, the demanding work of becoming a sanctuary congregation.  The other was a certain hesitancy on the part of many congregants to become involved in this issue.  This hesitancy could also be called discomfort.  It was not hostility.  Frankly, I perceived it and still do as primarily ignorance.

One respected senior member once told me how the whole issue of homosexuality made him squirm and caused confusion.  The important thing, though, was that he said he would keep trying to understand, and that is what he did.  I think a lot of others joined with him in that effort to learn more and be sure that what they felt and thought was fair and just and truthful.  This attitude made education our primary goal for these years.

I tried whenever possible to include references to LGBT issues, and to point out unfairness and outright injustice.  For example, a Regent of the University of Michigan vigorously opposed university funds being spent on an  Office of Lesbian and Gay Concerns, Various members of the congregation just as vigorously protested him, sending letters, making comments on local radio programs, sending letters to the editor of local newspapers, and trying as often as possible to include items in our weekly newsletter about issues affecting lesbians and gay males.

I should, perhaps, interject at this point to say that it would be several more years before we added the B and the T to the concerns we were addressing, not because of any animus but because we simply were not aware that these were also people who had been oppressed.

The major effort by our congregation to become advocates for LGBT people began in January, 1989, when I became aware of an ugly incident at Community Church in New York City.  A lesbian ministerial couple had been denied the call to an associate minister’s position there, primarily due to the efforts of retired minister Donald Harringon.  He had preached a few years earlier on his distaste (to put it mildly) for homosexuality.  He confessed to having given it a try in college — a confession that I think he made to qualify himself as an expert on the subject — and found it not right, indeed, unnatural.  I was told he contacted a lot of older folks to come and vote, using his considerable stature after more than forty years as the church’s minister, to persuade enough people to vote against the two women to defeat their candidacy.  I was angered at what he had apparently done, feeling he was wrong in his attitude toward homosexuals and wrong to have interfered in a church matter after retiring.

The UUA also felt this was wrong and began a process that became known as the Welcoming Congregation program to ensure that congregations gave LGBT ministers a fair hearing.  A proposal was readied for voting at the 1989 GA.  It called for three things: that congregations act fairly in considering candidates for ministry; that lesbian and gay male ministers be considered fairly; and that our congregations become involved in the Welcoming Congregation program.

On February 5, 1989, I addressed the congregation on this proposal, discussing affirmative action, equal opportunity, congregational autonomy, justice, and the oppression of homosexual males and females.  Following the service, we had an extended discussion about the resolution, in particular what, if anything, we should instruct our GA delegates to do when voting on the resolution.  We had a number of congregational discussions, and members of the Board and members of the Social Justice group interested in this issue and I had many personal conversations about what we should do.  At our May annual meeting, the congregation voted unanimously to support the Resolution.  Indeed, our support went beyond what the actual Resolution said, as it had been watered down by the UUA Board before GA.

In August, 1989, I called an open meeting of all those interested in working on how we might implement that resolution.  Thirteen people showed up, most of whom stayed faithful to the task through the next four or five years.  We resolved several things at that meeting.  We chose the name Common Vision.  We agreed to do all we could to look at our congregational practices to see if we were being fair.  This meant a careful study of our By Laws; attentive listening to sermons, lay presentations, the words of the songs we sang and the readings we used; our words of prayer and meditation; the books and other educational materials we used in religious education; the way we wrote in formal church publications; and other ways in which we communicated with each other and with the public.  We all felt — both gay and straight — that we had a lot to learn about how to proceed, and I was impressed and still am, by the harmonious spirit in which these people worked.

A second goal established at that first meeting was to open our arms to the wider society and welcome all those who were interested being a part of a liberal religious community.  This involved how we did publicity for our programs and our services, the signs and symbols that greeted people who entered the building (we put up a Pink Triangle and other local signs to show what we believed and practiced), and the effort we made to prepare a pamphlet that could advise lesbian and gay male couples where to find a minister to perform a service of union, where to get flowers, where to get a wedding cake, where to get wedding clothes, where to find musicians, and other matters attendant upon a marriage ceremony.  We also sent materials about what we were doing to the various support groups in the area, which in time would become the Rainbow Coalition.  We wanted to become known as a place of safety for LGBT people, a place where they could be full persons without having to check their sexual orientation at the door.  The way we thought of it was to create a community in which same sex couples would feel as free and comfortable as heterosexual couples did to hold hands, to embrace, to kiss, to in every way comfortable for them show their love for one another.

As part of our effort to become known as a gay-friendly place, but just as important, we sought to engage in the larger society on behalf of LGBT people.  We experienced one setback in doing this.  We had for several years been working to establish closer ties with the black community of our area.  The Ministerial Alliance, which included some 45 black churches in our county, stood strongly opposed to our efforts and particularly to me.  When we expressed our opposition to a resolution in the neighboring town that would have stricken from the city’s By Laws provisions that protected various minorities, the Alliance just as strongly  stood in opposition to us and to the city’s By Laws’ provisions.  When I retired in 2005, the wounds from that episode, made worse by several additional events where we were at odds with the Alliance, had not healed.  As saddened as I was by all this brouhaha, I believe we did the right thing.

On October 1, 1989, I preached a sermon on Our Common Vision.  For the only time in nearly fifty years of preaching, on that day a loud angry member stood in the balcony, his usual seat, and towering above me on the platform near the pulpit, denounced the very idea of a sermon on a common vision.  Many is the time when listeners have been upset at what I said, but only this one time what they (he) thought I would say!

This briefly is what I said.  I reviewed the history I have  written about above, including the four goals the Common Vision Committee established: affirmation, self-examination, welcome, and social justice.  I then spoke of how our twin heritages promote what we are doing.  Freedom in our Unitarian history is grounded in the infinite worth of persons, and Universalism teaches us that Love is the most powerful force in the universe.  Both point to an inclusive social policy and way of living.

I suggested we must learn to see things differently, like the minister at the bedside of a congregant who became angered at the brevity of a visit by two white-coated figures, a man and a woman, presumably a doctor and a nurse, who told the wife of the ill man she should call their minister.  The doctor and the nurse essentially ignored what the wife said, namely that she had already done so.  The minister chased after them down the hall.  She then tapped the man on the shoulder, and said, “Doctor, I am the minister.” To which the man replied, “Sorry, lady, she’s the doctor, I’m the nurse.”

I went on to say that we must work together, affirm every loving relationship, and strive for a new sensitivity in language.  I closed with the well-known story of the abbot of a moribund monastery who sought the advice of a rabbi friend.  The rabbi told him he knew only one thing, that the messiah was one of the monks.  When the abbot told his fellow monks what the rabbi had said, it changed everything in the monastery.  Each of the monks wondered if it was one of the others, or could it be himself? By treating each other as if one of them was the messiah, and also considering that it might be himself, each monk began to glow with goodness, and what had been moribund became dynamic.  That kind of common vision , I said, is what we should strive for in our congregation.

Despite the condemnation by the congregant before I delivered the sermon, it met with very strong approval.  This was the beginning of a several years-long effort to carry out our goals.  I will name some of the things we did to educate ourselves, to examine ourselves, to welcome people, and to work for social justice.

We invited the Reverend Richard Hasty, then the interim minister at First UU of Detroit, to offer a workshop on  homophobia for the Committee and the Board.  Out of that weekend experience came workshops for congregants.  This carried on for several years and people praised the leaders of them for their handling of what was then still a delicate subject for many people.

For several years we ran an educational column in the weekly newsletter, and had good response to these columns.

We had evening gatherings with movies focused on lesbian and gay male themes followed by discussion.  We also sponsored musical performances that featured music by LGBT people.  During Gay Pride week we sponsored a gay-friendly musical coffee house.

We hosted holiday dinners for lesbian and gay male folks whose families had essentially kicked them out of the family.

We presented Sunday forums on topics of interest to the LGBT community.  One issue of particular importance was trying to get rights for LGBT couples, one of whom worked for the University, to have the non-employee able to be part of the employee’s health insurance and pension benefits.  Hateful people got a ballot initiative passed that frustrated this effort, but clever and thoughtful people at UM figured out a legal way to do it!

We connected with other religious communities also engaged in this kind of work, learning from them and also teaching them.  UU congregations in both Michigan and Ohio invited us to share what we were doing with them, and I was frequently asked to deliver sermons in other UU congregations.

We appealed to one of our endowment funds committees for money to help the Triangle Foundation, and it was granted.

Gay and lesbian dances were held in our building.

PFLAG, several of whose members were members of our congregation, began holding their meetings in our church, and usually once a year I was asked to address the meeting about how our programs were doing.  One of these talks was on homophobia, which was based on a sermon I did in February, 1990.  I argued that homophobia can be personal or institutional or cultural, that it has a baleful and often a wicked influence.  Homophobia is oppressive to individuals, destructive of institutions, warps cultures, inhibits clear thinking, and erodes integrity.  I said that  homophobia is not natural but learned and that many societies — like some of the Native American tribes who honored the figures they called berdache — paid tribute to same sex oriented people; there is an anthropological study of some 82 societies, 64 of which have no homophobia and some of which have a special place of honor for homosexuals.  Finally, I said that what we can and should do is educate, legislate, organize, and politicize.

I was never more proud of our congregation than at an Ann Arbor City Council meeting in 1991 at which the Council was to consider a Domestic Partner Resolution.  110 citizens showed up to comment on the Resolution.  89 favored it, 22 of the 89 members of First UU.  I sat square in  the camera’s eye with my wife for the full five hours of the meeting, at the end of which the City Council voted 11-0 in favor of the Resolution.

The congregation voted in 1991, after two years of engaging with the Welcoming Congregation booklet and its recommendations, to become a Welcoming Congregation.  Two years later the Common Vision Committee decided that they had done the work we set out to do and, in the words of one of the members who was a lesbian, “we just wanted to be members of the congregation without a cause to work on.”

We did regroup in 1994 because of the threat of a ballot initiative that would have deprived LGBT people of certain  rights, but there was scant support for that initiative and so we had no work to do.

Perhaps one indicator of the success of these early efforts, and truthfully I have only been able to sketch briefly all that was done, is that my two successors are LGBT people — Gail Geisenhainer and Manish Mishra-Marzetti — as are the Associate Minister and the Director of Music.  The goal of the Committee members when Common Vision ended its labor was to “be members of the congregation without a cause to work on.” I think it not inappropriate to substitute minister/staff for member and the sentiment is the same and it seems to have worked.

Would that I could have named all the people (see below for some  of them) who helped to make our efforts successful because this was truly a whole congregation success.  At first there were only a few people interested, then there were more, and then as people educated themselves and became active in striving for social justice and a fair congregational life, as people began to realize that it is not gender that matters but love, the congregation as a whole became involved.  Sure, gender helps us to understand who we are and what we are, but as we are learning now in the  21st century, there are so many dimensions to issues of gender and sexuality that truly only one thing really matters, and that is love.  I believe that is what the Ann Arbor congregation has always been about and I am proud to have been associated with them on this particular journey of faith.

Some of those who made it all possible:

  • Rob Boblett
  • Mary and Jan Barber and their child Alexander
  • Cecy Ewing
  • Cathy Doherty
  • Brandy Sinco
  • Mary Beth Walworth
  • Gene Caunt
  • Nancy and Ron Bishop
  • Arlene Huff
  • Kerry Graves
  • Arty Kalnaraups
  • Brent Bates
  • Hank Flandysz
  • Scott Wilson
  • Tom Hogan
  • Penny Greiling
  • Gladwin  McGee
  • Jane Ferguson
  • Molly Reno
  • Mary Watson
  • Dorothy Wilson
  •     and literally hundreds more

This is what it felt like as a community, a family, as told by the then youngest member of the congregation, a babe, child of the Barbers, as his candle lighting words tell.

“Good morning! My name is Alexander Barber, my friends call me Alex.  As the youngest member of this congregation I was asked to do the candle lighting this morning.  Immediately I felt somewhat overwhelmed by the task, so I asked my parents Jan and Mary Barber to help.  You will note that they have changed their last names (from Jan  Kraushaar and Mary Whitehouse) to match mine.  I found this very accommodating of them… quite flexible especially considering their advanced age.

Anyway I’ve decided to light the candle this morning for my family.  Family… what is a family?  I’ve been asking myself this question since my arrival.  Obviously a family is not always a mother, a father, and 2.5 children.  Some families have one parent, some have three.  I have two moms.  So I’ve been working on a definition for family, see how you like it:

A family is a group of people who respect your individuality, who cherish your presence, who share your ups and downs, they support you in your growth and best of all give you unconditional love.

But wait a minute.  As I look out into the auditorium, I see a group of people who have welcomed me with open arms, cherishing me for who I am.  A group of people who have supported my moms in their new role as parents.  When I am held by each of you at coffee hour I can sense your unconditional love.

Oh…I think I’m catching on…this morning I, Alexander Barber, am lighting the candle for all of you… my family.”

Rev.  Kenneth W.  Phifer

Personal Memories of LGBTQ Groundbreakers in the UUA

I was a surprising, and surprised participant in some important moments in the LGBTQ history of the UUA. I say surprising because I had a heterosexual upbringing and identity that did not prepare me to meet gay and lesbian people in the larger world of Unitarian Universalism beyond my home church in Winnipeg, Manitoba. As I emerged into leadership in Liberal Religious Youth, and decided to run for continental office in LRY, I was given the gift of people and opportunities that would never have come way had I stayed involved only locally, or even regionally. I was “surprised” by my involvements because they came as invitations or relationships that I did not seek out, that early on actually frightened me, and that ultimately, I chose to accept. I did so because I realized that this is what being a Unitarian Universalist was all about – remaining open to people you did not know or understand that might have something to teach you about the common life we all share.

The 50th Stonewall Anniversary we are celebrating also marks a year of powerful changes in my own life. In May 1969 I dropped out of college and moved to Boston to become a full-time leader in Liberal Religious Youth, to work at the UUA headquarters and to follow the youth conference circuit. I attended the July 1969 General Assembly in Boston, which was dominated by the Black Empowerment Controversy. Stonewall had happened a month earlier, but it was not an event that cracked through the consciousness of most straight Unitarian Universalists. The Black Power movement dominated UU politics, but it also had an intersectional influence on other liberation movements. Our Youth Agenda to gain control over the LRY budget is one example. In Mark Morrison-Reed’s Revisiting the Empowerment Controversy, he draws a picture of the inspirational connections between feminist and LGBT leaders and movements and the Black Empowerment controversy. Morrison-Reed cites Rev. Richard Nash as a pioneering gay UU minister who was involved with and influenced by his support for black empowerment. I met and worked with Dick Nash in 1969 as a youth leader and as a supporter of FULLBAC. Dick was working for the UU Service Committee in Boston during 1969-70 and was an important local supporter as we planned for the 1969 GA. Yet, I was unaware of Dick’s involvement in the Mattachine Society in Los Angeles or his identity as a gay man. If I had known, the homophobic fear and hatred that lay just under the surface of my radical hippie persona would probably have frightened me away from him.

One month later an encounter with Rev. James L. Stoll changed all that. Jim is often mentioned among the early out gay UU leaders alongside Dick Nash, although they moved in different circles. When I met him sometime in 1969, he was the minister of our church in Kennewick, Washington. Rev. Stoll had a history of support and involvement with continental youth ministry before I came along in leadership roles. He was a member of LRYAC, the LRY Advisory Committee. LRYAC was a continental committee of youth advisors who consulted with the UUA’s Education Staff, including the LRY Executive Director, the LRY Board and its Executive Committee.

Jim was an advisor to the 1969 Student Religious Liberals Continental Conference over Labor Day weekend 1969, held at Camp LaForet in Colorado.  Jim, like so many closeted gay professionals, was both furious and inspired by the Stonewall Rebellion earlier that summer. He had decided he would not live in secrecy any longer. I don’t know whether the SRL Conference was the first public place he came out as a gay man. I was in attendance representing LRY and present at the evening worship service Jim led . There is a biographical entry about Jim Stoll in the on-line LGBTQ archive you can access, that includes reflections and memories from Jim’s friend Rev. Lee Bond-Upson about that time and event. He came out powerfully in a moving sermon and worship service at that service, and  it was a moment that changed my life. For the first time, I was given access to the point of view of a gay man. The possibility that gay people weren’t sick, just different, opened up to me. The realization that my own ignorance was part of an oppressive system that I supported first occurred to me. I have been forever grateful.

Jim became an important part of LRY’s network of adult supporters over the next year. He was on his way out of the Kennewick ministry in mid-1969, and had moved to the Bay Area. Even as his own life was changing, and his public gay activism was moving more to the center, Jim was sympathetic and supportive of the youth empowerment agenda. When it was time to get ready for the 1970 Seattle General Assembly, Jim was all-in with our LRY leadership cadre. He had an apartment in Seattle, and with his home as a base for our organizing for that Assembly, he offered us adult credibility and credit and a place to stay when we needed it. But Jim also wanted something from us as we headed for that assembly.

Jim had authored a resolution he wanted to get before the 1970 UUA General Assembly that would support “homosexual civil rights”. He needed allies, and he needed campaign workers to be able to get this resolution before the General Assembly by petition.  The LRY leadership was happy to be among those allies. As an affiliate organization of the UUA, LRY had the ability to propose social justice resolutions and had administrative capacity and money (which we now controlled) to use to collect signatures and advocate for the resolution. We did both and successfully got the resolution on the agenda during the winter of 1970.

I wish I had a transcript of the speakers during the floor debate of the homosexual civil rights resolution at the 1970 General Assembly. I’m sure Jim Stoll and Dick Nash both spoke, and I can’t recall who spoke on behalf of LRY – possibly our social justice director, Burt Cohen.  I don’t remember what the final vote was – but it passed. It was the first official statement by the UUA on anything related to LGBT people. Over the next year, a Gay Caucus was organized in the UUA and held its first GA gathering in 1971. According to Jeff Wilson’s essay in the Journal of UU History cited in footnote 624 of Mark Morrison-Reed’s book, the organizers were James Stoll, Richard Nash, and Elgin Blair.

During 1970-71 when I returned to Canada to go to college in Toronto my denominational involvement was focused as part of the leadership team of The Fellowship for Renewal, (FFR) a broadly-based UU liberation organization that originated in the white allies of the black empowerment movement. FFR had expanded its focus to include not only black empowerment but empowerment for women, gay people and youth. I met Elgin Blair in the fall of 1971 at First Unitarian Church in Toronto where he was a member interested in FFR. Elgin was the first person I ever met who routinely wore buttons every day on his clothing proclaiming himself to be gay. The following spring as we looked ahead to the 1972 General Assembly in Dallas, Elgin offered me a ride if I could share the driving with him. So we spent some memorable days together getting to know each other.  My understanding of what it meant to be a gay man in our culture was undergoing further education each time I had a chance to enter into a deeper friendship like this one. The following year, at the 1973 General Assembly, the Gay Caucus was successful in their advocacy for the establishment of an Office of Gay Affairs (a name derived from the terminology used for “Black Affairs”, and later changed to “Office of Gay Concerns”). It was fully funded in the 1974 Budget.

I was at the right place at the right time to be able to know and work with several other influential people in the history of LGBTQ activism in the UUA during the 70’s: Frank Robertson, Bob Wheatly, Mark Belletini and Gene Navias.

Frank Robertson was a FULLBAC supporter and a Youth Agenda supporter active in the Fellowship for Renewal in the early 70’s. He was personally supportive and generous with me and the other LRY leaders of that time. He was coming out of a heterosexual marriage and becoming public about his gay identity in 1971 when he was hired as Director of Religious Education at All Souls Unitarian Church in 1971. He is likely the first religious professional who was hired by a UUA congregation as an openly gay man.  His partnership with Rick McDonald dates from 1972 according to Frank’s obituary.  Frank was a national and local Gay Caucus leader, and a key player in the establishment of the Office of Gay Concerns.

After graduating with my undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto, I went directly to Harvard Divinity School go pursue my M.Div.  I was at HDS for only two successive years of academic study, but during that time, in 1973-74 I did my Harvard Field Education requirement at the Cambridge Council on Aging, supervised by their Executive Director, a UU lay leader I knew from Arlington St. Church named Bob Wheatly. Bob later became a UU minister and was the second director of the Office of Gay Concerns starting in 1977. We maintained a close friendship throughout the seventies.

In the summer of 1974 I moved to the Bay Area to begin a full time internship at First Unitarian Church of San Francisco. By then the Castro neighborhood was a national mecca for gay people and a full-blown out gay culture was influencing the church. I stayed in the Bay Area after graduating from Harvard because I received a call to the Starr King Unitarian Church in Hayward in the East Bay in 1976 where I served until 1980. So I was a witness and community participant in the powerful and frightening events of the late 70’s in the Bay Area – the political rise and election of Harvey Milk, his assassination, and the White Nights riots that followed.

In the spring of 1977, I was named an adjunct faculty member at Starr King to teach a course on 20th century UU History.  Mark Belletini was a student in my class. Mark was a striking seminarian, so obviously brilliant in theology, history, and worship. We came to know each other through the class and our shared interest in the Congregation of Abraxas, an ordered community of UU’s dedicated to worship as a central spiritual practice. Mark was always a comfortably out gay man at Starr King as I recall, but during the seventies, gay ministers were still mostly closeted in their public employment roles. In the 1969 UUA Presidential election, we had a gay candidate who was a significant contender in that field of seven, UUA staff member Rev. Deane Starr – but Deane did not come out until later in the 80’s as he approached retirement.  I presumed that Jim Stoll had left parish ministry and gone into hospital chaplaincy in part because of suspicion of his gay life style. There was inspiration in Frank Robertson, who was not grandfathered in as a UU minister until we recognized the Ministry of religious education in 1979.  But the usual lore is that Mark Belletini was the first openly gay UU minister to be called to a church through the usual settlement process – and the church he was called to was the one I had just left, the Starr King Unitarian Church in Hayward, CA.

I hesitate to pat myself on the back as having anything to do with that call.  The congregation had been influenced by the culture of the Bay Area for a decade by 1980, and there were out gay people among church families and members. The congregation had mobilized in opposition to a state ballot initiative that would have compelled school districts to fire teachers who were openly gay. So the tide was turning in Unitarian Universalism and Starr King Church was riding the wave as a tide of newly ordained and out LGBTQ ministers began to roll in during the 80’s and 90’s.

When I left Hayward, I returned to Boston to become the UUA’s first Youth Programs Director. My colleague in the Department of Religious Education was Eugene Navias, and within a few years he was named the Director of Department of Religious Education. I had first met Gene as an LRY leader a decade earlier when he was a key leader in the development of the About Your Sexuality curriculum and its revolutionary inclusion of judgment-free educational material about homosexuality.  Gene had been serving the UUA since 1963 and had been comfortably out among his closest friends and colleagues in LREDA for a long time already, but it was still a matter for concern in 1982 as to whether President Eugene Pickett would make the obvious decision to name Gene Navias, an out gay man,  as Head of the Department of Religious Education. Our anxiety was mis-placed, as President Pickett did not hesitate.  Gene influenced generations of religious educators and youth to become a leading edge of advocacy for open and accepting attitudes towards LGBTQ people.

I have been so blessed by these opportunities to have known and often to have deep and meaningful friendships with so many of these key leaders in the UUA’s LGBTQ history, and it’s a pleasure to share these memories with you.

About Your Sexuality: Religion and the Homosexual

Richard S. Gilbert – Rochester, NY – April 13, 1975

READING: CALL TO THE LIVING

This is a call to the living,
To those who refuse to make peace with evil,
With the suffering and waste of the world.

This is a call to the human,
Not the perfect,
To those who know their own prejudices,
Who have no intention
Of becoming prisoners of their own limitations.

This is a call to those who remember the dreams of their youth,
Who know what it means to share food and shelter,
The care of children and those who are troubled,
To reach beyond the barriers of the past
Bringing persons into communion.

This is a call to the never-ending spirit of the human person,
That person’s essential decency,
That person’ s integrity beyond all education and wealth,
That person’s unending capacity to face death and destruction and to rise again
And build from the ruins of his or her life.

This is the greatest call of all
The call to a faith in people.

READING: The Span of Life Passes

The span of life passes, and the time of our years is all too brief.
Let us, therefore, make room in our fellowship for those who have need of our love.

  • make room for the interim person who has given up the past but cannot find a future;
  • make room for the withdrawn who alone know their own woes

and have not yet found the courage to share them.

Let them sense that ours is not a judging fellowship
and that each of us at some time is agonized by our own regretful conduct
and stands in need of forgiveness;

  • make room for the proud who know all the answers – except the important ones;
  • make room for the sophisticate who knows how to act – except in crisis;
  • make room for the maker-of-waves who disturbs the status quo but cannot always improve upon it.

All these are the fabric of which human progress is fashioned, and all these have need of our fellowship.
There is so much in modern life hostile to human nurture.
Let us, therefore deal gently with each other and let us make room in our fellowship.
For the span of life passes, and the time of our years is all too brief.

—The Rev. Fred Cappucinno Pointe Claire, Quebec

Letter from Freud to Mrs. X – April 19,1935

Dear Mrs. X:

I gather from your letter that your son is a homosexual. I am most impressed by the fact that you do not mention this term yourself in your information about him. May I question you, why do you avoid it? Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function produced by a certain arrest of sexual development. Many highly respectable individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc.) It is a great injustice to persecute homosexuality as a crime, and cruelty too. If you do not believe me, read the books of Havelock Ellis.

By asking me if I can help, you mean, I suppose, if I can abolish homosexuality and make normal heterosexuality take its place. The answer is, in a general way, we cannot promise to achieve it. In a certain number of cases we succeed in developing the blighted germs of heterosexual tendencies which are present in every homosexual, in the majority of cases it is no more possible. It is a question of the quality and the age of the individual. The result of the treatment cannot be predicted.

What analysis can do for your son runs in a different line. If he is unhappy, neurotic, torn by conflicts, inhibited in his social life, analysis may bring him harmony, peace of mind, full efficiency, whether he remains a homosexual or gets changed. If you make up your mind, he should have analysis with me (I don’t expect you will) he has to come over to Vienna. I have no intention of leaving here. However, don’t neglect to give me your answer.

Sincerely yours with kind wishes.

Freud.

P.S. I did not find it difficult to read your handwriting. Hope you will not find my writing and my English a harder task.

SERMON

At the 1973 General Assembly of our denomination in Toronto I was handed a balloon one festive evening by a fellow minister. It bore the careful inscription “straight caucus” playfully satirizing the many caucuses (black, gay, woman’s) which spring up at these tribal gatherings. He felt I was the logical founder of such a group, and so was born in jest the Unitarian Universalist Straight Caucus. As I began listing qualifications for membership including sexual orientation, style of hair and dress, marital fidelity and the like, I concluded I knew of no one else who would be eligible., We, I disbanded. Straighter than your minister there are not many (at least in some matters).

This, then, is my perspective on homosexuality. I will further confess my contact with homosexuals is somewhat limited. One of the most significant encounters was an eye-opening meeting with two homosexuals in a seminar at Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley in 1970. That same year our denomination passed a resolution opposing laws prohibiting homosexual behavior between consenting adults. I supported it in principle but with little passion. Subsequently, I have had contact with members of the Unitarian Universalist Gay Caucus and of Rochester’s gay community. And for the past several weeks I have immersed myself in the literature and listened to a fascinating tape on homosexuality.

My view of homosexuality has been a rather traditional one. In my youth I learned the standard repertoire of homosexual jokes. Later, I developed a considerable distaste for homosexual activity believing first it was a sin (or its Unitarian Universalist equivalent) and later a sickness. Now that bur denomination has funded a controversial Office on Gay Affairs, the issue rises in consciousness again and demands rethinking, especially since there is a new caucus to end funding for that office. This sermon, however, will not be on denominational politics, though I personally favor the office, but on the phenomenon of homosexuality itself which informs the debate and how religious people might respond to it.

What is homosexuality? That may seem too simple a question for so informed a group as this congregation–but allow me. The term is derived from the Greek “hom” – “the same”, rather than the Latin root “homo” — “man’!  It is a life style in which persons find their basic source of intimacy, including sexual intimacy, in members of the same sex. The term “lesbian” refers to female homosexuals — lesbian from the Isle of Lesbos where the poet Sappho wrote in the 6th’century B.C. E.

Beyond this basic definition there are three questions with which we must grapple if we are to understand what has been called “the love which dares not state its name.” Is homosexuality a sin as some theologians aver? Is it a sickness, as some psychiatrists claim? Is it a variant life style, as most homosexuals claim? Sin? Sickness? Life-style?

If one reads Judeo-Christian history carefully it will soon be discovered that homosexuality is condemned as a sin before God. The Old Testament story of Sodom has been interpreted as God’s punishment for homosexuality though modern Biblical criticism challenges that view. It is unequivocally condemned in Leviticus along with masturbation, intercourse with a woman during menstruation and other offenses. The reasons appear to be a repudiation of the homosexual excesses of the pagan world and a desire to replenish this depleted nomadic people — spilling seed would violate God’s command to be fruitful and multiply.

There is nothing of homosexuality in the Gospels, but Paul, as usual, speaks out forthrightly against it. This sets the scene for centuries of condemnation and persecution of same sex practices. When Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century there was intense persecution of homosexuals and the act was outlawed. Augustine and Aquinas continued the trend which was to inform the Western legal tradition.

The German theologian Helmut Thielke forcefully states one contemporary Christian view of homosexuality. He maintains it is basically “unnatural;” that is, it violates the created order of God which is heterosexual after the Creation story in Genesis. It is not a “Christian” form of encounter between .two persons though “it is nevertheless very certainly a search for the totality of the other human being.” A person should be “saved” from homosexuality if possible. Aversion to this orientation is ineradicably embedded in human nature. And while arguing against any legal restraint on homosexual behavior between consenting adults, he concludes the most Christian thing for a homosexual is to sublimate his or her sexual urges. Thielke illustrates the contortions through which many Christian scholars go to use the Bible as an ethical norm for the present.

Most realize Biblical teachings are conditioned by the culture in which they were written and read, yet there seems to be a compulsion to somehow justify that ancient position. More important, however, is Thielke’s contention that homosexuality is “unnatural,” against God’s “created order.” I am not as confident as he that I know what God had in mind for human sexuality, if we can speak of God as mind at all. I am more of the naturalistic view that human evolution has favored the human species because of our capacity for variety of expressions – racially, temperamentally, sexually. It should also be noted that anthropological studies of 76 societies indicate that in only 1/3 of them is the practice disapproved. That, plus the fact that homosexuality is common in the animal kingdom, raise a serious doubt as to whether we can say it is” unnatural” or “out of tune with the universe.”

Furthermore, I do not agree that sin is a state of existence, be it homosexuality or heterosexuality, but that we human beings are living processes capable of much evil and much good. The good or evil in a particular sexual orientation or act is not in some abstract teaching about violation of the “created order,” but what the orientation or act means and does to the people involved. Any sex act can be right or wrong depending on the situation — love, respect for self and other, care, concern, self-giving, fidelity or inhibiting growth, manipulation of persons, violation of love – these are what determine the rightness or wrongness of an act.

Before we turn away from religion’s negative contribution to sexual ethics in self-righteousness, I might point out that Horatio Alger, Jr., that monument to the American idea of success, that apostle of the straight-laced was, without very much of a doubt, homosexual. Further, it seems he left the Unitarian Church of Brewster, Massachusetts, in disgrace for “the abominable and revolting crime of unnatural familiarity with boys.” There is a skeleton in the Unitarian Universalist closet — and think what this might do to modern day apostles the Horatio Alger myth.

A corollary of homosexuality as sin is homosexuality as crime. Sodomy (the term derived from the Old Testament’ story) is a’ crime in 45 of the 50 states, and while it refers to such “unnatural acts” as anal and mouth to genital intercourse, those who have been prosecuted under it by and large are homosexuals. Furthermore, while we fear for our life in the streets, many policemen are “entrapping” homosexuals in parks and bars. Were the laws to be equally and stringently enforced, it is likely our whole prison system would collapse.

Our archaic laws on this matter stem directly from inhuman elements in our religious tradition. Homosexuality was a crime punishable by death in England until 1861 when a life-term was substituted. Then came the Wolfenden Report, and the 1957 law which stated that “homosexual behavior between consenting adults in private can be no longer a criminal offense.” Slowly we are making legal progress — a similar law in New York City was recently passed and very recently two male homosexuals were granted a marriage license in Colorado.

The irony of our legal approach should not escape us. We send persons to prison for homosexual behavior when our prisons are notorious for their often brutal homosexual activities. A second irony is found in a graffiti from a San Francisco washroom: “I won a medal for killing four men and got a dishonorable discharge for loving one. Vietnam Vet.”

Is homosexuality a sickness? There is much debate on this question in psychological circles with no clear resolution. It is true that members of the American Psychiatric Association in 1974 voted to remove homosexuality from the list of recognized disorders, stating it is not a disease but a form of sexual orientation that requires treatment only when the individual concerned is disturbed by it. A mere vote will not settle the issue, however. Is homosexuality a deviation, which implies a moral judgment, or a variation which recognizes difference of orientation without judgment? Freud, despite his later view that it was variation not sickness, generally felt any sexual orientation taking precedence over heterosexuality represented a defect in psycho-sexual development. Some variation of this view has dominated the field until recently. Interestingly, psychiatrists meet mainly the gays coming for treatment because they are sick; if I were to judge heterosexuality by couples coming to me for counseling, I might conclude it too was a sickness.

There is no one generally accepted theory of the cause of homosexuality which gives us a clue on the deviation/variation question. There is apparently no compelling evidence for a biological cause; the theory of the dominant mother/passive father has as many detractors as backers; I know two staunch heterosexuals from such an environment for at least one exception. In short, we simply do not know very much about the complex dynamics of homosexuality or heterosexuality as a preference. There is even a small but growing body of evidence that homosexuals are not only as healthy as heterosexuals but, in some cases, more healthy. The studies are mainly the work of a gay psychiatrist whose objectivity I questioned until I realized most research on the Gay Community is done by heterosexuals. When one considers the persecution, discrimination and repression directed at homosexuals, one wonders at strength of personality to withstand the attack and maintain the lifestyle.

If there is a sickness in the gay community, it may be self-hatred engendered by a prejudicial society. This week I heard a young boy on tape say suicide was a constant companion because of the hostility of society, including even his parents. I also heard the vituperations heaped on young Bill Johnson, a West Coast gay minister seeking ordination, by churchmen: “You make me sick. All my life I’ve been a good family man. You’re a disgrace, not a man. If this is what the church wants, I won’t be a part of it.” And another Christian: “I hope you’re happy, you pervert. This is going to destroy the church!” And he spit in Bill’s face.

Dr. George Weinberg, in Society and the Healthy Homosexual, writes about a sickness which he calls “homophobia”—fear of homosexuality. He believes no one can be mentally healthy who has not conquered prejudice toward gay people. He describes homophobia in much the same way Gordon Allport describes racial prejudice, emerging often out of a need to feel superior. He believes homophobia is irrational social prejudice, an acute conventionality which condemns because of difference. It would seem that homosexuality as sin or sickness mainly has the liability of being different, the title of a very moving book by Merle Miller. Fortunately, that difference is becoming no longer a cause for self-hatred but a source of pride in the Gay liberation movement. The closet door is coming open and replacing “homosexuals” are proud and gay human beings.

Is homosexuality then a life style and nothing more? I think one of the most helpful delineations of homosexuality was developed by Kinsey’s studies. He tries to break out of labeling or categorizing people, writing: “Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into separated pigeon holes. The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects. The sooner we learn this concerning human sexual behavior the sooner we shall reach a sound understanding of the realities of sex.” His continuum has seven points beginning with a zero category for those who exhibit exclusively heterosexual behavior, moving toward the center position 3 for the bi-sexuals who find sexual enjoyment in both sexes and continuing to six for those who exhibit exclusively homosexual behavior. There are perhaps 2-4 million males in this latter category, about 1/3 as many females, and about 15 million in the country who are exclusively or predominantly homosexual. Many more have had homosexual experiences but would not be classified homosexual.

In life style homosexuals are more like heterosexuals than not. One theologian writes: “…gay people have careers. They have straight friends. They have mothers and fathers. They have sons and daughters (by heterosexual marriages). They celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. They eat out and laugh, and cry and argue. They have indigestion and unmown yards. They are affronted and befriended. They pay taxes, go to school, attend church, and have birthdays. In short, they have an everyday just as straights do. This day doesnt last from 8pm until 1am when the bars, are full. Their lives aren’t all spent in bed, in tears, in therapy, in prison or in ecstasy.”

It should be pointed out in all honesty that gay males tend to have short term relationships — for several_ reasons: men are less stable in relationship (I am told); society discourages same sex relationships; there are usually no children to, keep them together. But it should also be pointed out that according to Kinsey the lesbian relationship tends to be more stable than the heterosexual relationship.

What do gays do sexually in this variant life style?” They do everything heterosexual couples do except penile-vaginal intercourse — nothing more exciting or mysterious than that. As one author said: “What characterizes an act as homosexual is not the act itself but the fact the partners are of the same sex.”

There are so many stereotypes I should like to explode: that one can spot homosexuals, which reminds me of a story told by a homosexual, of a dinner party where a Member of the British Parliament said to him in fatherly tones: “You’ve no idea how many of them there are about. I’ve got a knack of recognizing them, and if you’d seen as many as I have, you’d be horrified by it!” The myth of playing the traditional male/female sex roles should be ended. Furthermore, homosexuaLity is not contagious on contact. It is heterosexuals who are the main child abusers. And so. on it goes.

And Gays can be gay: This story appeared in the Unitarian Universalist Gay Caucus Newsletter: “Two gay men were walking along a beach and this absolutely terrific, very beautiful woman walked by. The two men stopped and gazed at the lovely woman, and one sighed and said to the other: “You know, it’s times like this when I wish I were a lesbian.”

But we are left with a disturbing challenge by those who oppose both the Office on Gay Affairs and “The Invisible Minority,” an award-winning filmstrip on homosexuality in our “About Your Sexuality Curriculum.” The ‘challenge is this: for some heterosexual family life is normative in our society. Our current denominational programming, it is contended, will encourage our young people into homosexual behavior, thus deviating from the norm and threatening the stability of the family. How are we to respond to that view?

I want to do it in the most personal way, by asking myself this question: would I want my sons to become homosexuals? I suppose if am honest with myself I would have to say no. I would fear the discrimination they would face; I have a personal proclivity for heterosexual behavior in a married setting; I have a personal preference for the joys of nuclear family life, including my sons; I would not want that experience denied them.

Yet my answer cannot stop there, for I also want my sons to know about the gay world, about a variant life style which they will surely contact in friends and acquaintances. I do not want to hide this life style from them, nor do I want to brainwash them in my own predilections. They will know where I stand, how I feel — .what is my preference; but they will also know I value my contacts with men and love them, that I have been physically affectionate with them as well as with their mother; that they are free human beings in a religious tradition which cherishes the right of each to choose his or her own lifestyle.

This rhetorical question I ask myself has some deeper meanings. I know now that I have become pre-occupied with genital sexual activity in my understanding of homosexuals. Everything is squeezed through sexuality. First and foremost, homosexuals are persons with ideas, feelings, beliefs, values and a particular sexual orientation that tells me something about them as persons, but emphatically not all. I would be tempted to name history’s homosexuals without whom our culture would be greatly impoverished: Plato, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Walt Whitman, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky and more, but why need I?

My question further suggests that what I must affirm above all else is human love – hetero or homosexual. All of us have an intense need for human intimacy, and that need we will seek to satisfy, or we are psychically and spiritually dead. Who am I to say that two men or two women have not found that human intimacy with each other as I have found it with my wife? Who am I to make so bold a judgment that this love is inferior to the love I celebrate in marriage? It smacks of an arrogance I cannot bear.

One lesbian stated it well when asked about her guilt as a homosexual: “I have always associated my ability to love with the best things in me.  It was a positive feeling and not a negative one. I thought it was the best I could offer, when I loved somebody and wanted us to be happy. I always associated it with the beautiful and the true and the best I could think of, and therefore there was no shame.”

If my sons should choose a homosexual life style, I suppose there would inevitably be initial disappointment. I can only hope this would soon give way to affirming them as persons and cherishing. variation in human experience. I would only hope and pray I would continue to affirm them as my sons and hope for them human intimacy which would further enrich their humanity.

A nun wrote this letter to her younger brother who told her he was homosexual: “Dear Michael: Today you revealed to me an intimate part of your Life. Something I have long suspected, but now it has been verbalized. I did cry for one moment; one short, yet eternal moment. I cried because you doubted my acceptance of you. I will, I always will.”

We are all more human than otherwise. We need each other – gay and straight – male and female. We must learn to celebrate our common humanity in full recognition of our differences. We are all more human than otherwise.

I close with the conclusion of Merle Miller’s book On Being Different: “Gay is good. Gay is proud. Well, yes, I Suppose. If had been given a choice (but who is?) I would prefer to have been straight. But then, would I rather not have been me? Oh, I think not this morning anyway. It is a very clear day in late December, and the sun is shining on the pine trees outside my studio. The air is extraordinarily clear, and the sky is the color it gets only at this time of year, dark, almost navy-blue. On such a day I would not choose to be anyone else or any place else.”

CLOSING WORDS: WHAT WE OWE.

We are all of one life.
We share a common origin and a common destiny.
Whatever there is in life of good or evil,
We are of it together.
There is enough of suffering and waste in the world,
Every life is precious.
We owe it to one another
To make life sweet, not bitter.
Amen.

Universalist Ministers Face Charges for Marrying Gay Couples

From Pat Sullivan, about the advocacy work of her spouse the Rev. Kay Greenleaf. The Advocate, March 17 2004

Two ministers in Kingston, N.Y., were charged with criminal offenses on Monday for marrying 13 gay couples in what is believed to be the first time in the United States that clergy members have been prosecuted for performing same-sex ceremonies. District Attorney Donald Williams said gay marriage laws make no distinction between public officials and members of the clergy who preside over wedding ceremonies. Unitarian Universalist ministers Kay Greenleaf and Dawn Sangrey were charged with multiple counts of solemnizing a marriage without a license, the same charges leveled against New Paltz mayor Jason West, who last month drew the state into the widening national debate over same-sex unions. The charges carry a fine of $25 to $500 or up to two years in jail. “As far as I know, that’s unprecedented,” said Mark Shields, a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a Washington-based gay rights group. “It’s ridiculous that prosecutors would spend their time charging anyone with a crime who is simply trying to unite two people with basic rights and protections.”

Pat-Sullivan-NELA-NY-Celebration (PDF)

Since West joined San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom as the only elected officials to marry gay couples, the issue has quickly become a matter of debate across the country. Courts, legislatures, and elected officials are wrestling with what supporters say is a matter of civil rights and opponents call an attack on the time-honored institution of marriage. Greenleaf, who acknowledged performing the ceremonies in New Paltz knowing the couples did not have licenses, said she signed an affidavit for the couples and considers the ceremonies civil. Williams said he decided to press charges because the marriages were “drastically different” from religious ceremonies because Greenleaf and Sangrey publicly said they considered them civil. Some Unitarian ministers, Greenleaf included, have been performing ceremonies for gay couples since before the issue entered the national debate. “It is not our intention to interfere with anyone’s right to express their religious beliefs, including the right of members of the clergy to perform ceremonies where couples are united solely in the eyes of the church or any other faith,” Williams said.

Williams had said before Monday’s charges were announced that it would be more difficult considering charges against clergy because the clergy had not sworn to uphold the law. He said his decision to press charges was influenced by New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer’s opinion that gay marriage is illegal in New York and by the injunction issued by a state supreme court justice against West. The ministers performed the weddings March 6.

On Saturday, Greenleaf and Sangrey were joined by a third minister, the Reverend Marion Visel, in performing 25 more ceremonies, which went off without protests or arrests. It could not immediately be learned if more charges would be brought. The ministers’ lawyer, Robert Gottlieb, was unaware of the charges when contacted by the Associated Press and declined comment.

Unitarian Universalists have roots in a movement that rejected Puritan orthodoxy in New England, and they support a free search for spiritual truth. Atheists and pagans are a significant part of their membership. Unitarians have backed gay rights since 1970, and they not only endorse same-sex unions, but some churches also offer the couples premarital counseling. The denomination counts nearly 215,000 people as members nationwide, according to the 2004 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.

West married 25 gay and lesbian couples on February 27 in a highly publicized marathon ceremony. West is now under a court order temporarily halting the weddings. In Oregon, Multnomah County commissioners decided Monday that they will continue to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite legal objections from the state. About 2,000 gay couples from around the nation have flocked to Portland to be married since a March 3 county review of state law concluded that denying such applications would be unconstitutional. Portland remains the only major city in the United States where gay couples can get married.

Misinformation and Fear of Gay Ministers

What follows are some of my GLBTQ+ experiences between my birth in 1935 and today, when I am 83 years of age.

I grew up in a UU minister family that was not homophobic, which is not to say that GLBTQ+ persons were looked on exactly like heterosexual persons. They were “different,” “exotic,” “interesting,” “artistic.” In the context of the church those who were “out” were not denied a place in congregational life.

That was the way I saw it. Today I know that was not the way GLBTQ experienced it. Church was safer than most other places, but no place was truly safe.

For gay UU ministers, the discovery that they were gay was grounds enough to have their fellowship revoked. There was both misinformation and fear of gay ministers.

I entered Antioch College in 1953. I was a psychology major. I learned the then “enlightened” view that GL persons had some different developmental stages in growing up that led them to be homosexual. They were simply different than heterosexual persons. Most GL persons ( I never heard then about BTQ persons) were deep in the closet, including my freshman roommate. I did not know until after graduation that he was gay. That was also true of several other close friends.

As an upperclassman, I served one year as a hall advisor in a section of the freshman dorm. As I recall there were 18 men. Several weeks into the fall term one of the students came to me and my roommate to report that he had come into his room and found his roommate in bed with another male student. We advised him that he may have misperceived what was happening, but to inform us if it occurred again. Several days later he told us it had happened a second time.

My roommate and I went to talk with the Dean of Students to discuss what should be done. He set up a meeting with the student and the two of us. The dean said to him that his sexual practices, homosexual or heterosexual, were his own business. However, since he shared a room he could not make this a problem for his roommate. There was no discipline. simply a statement that sexual contact could not continue in his shared room.

The three of us returned to the dorm. I had a social engagement and soon left. My roommate stayed behind to be supportive of “Harry,” who was visible shaken by his experience. Harry went into his room and closed the door. “Harve” waited a while and then knocked on his door. Harry was in bed crying. He pulled himself together and told Harve that he had swallowed a full bottle of aspirin. Harve responded that they had to go to the college clinic to have his stomach pumped. Harry asked for a few minutes alone to pull himself together. Harve agreed and waited for several minutes in the hall. There was not answer when he knocked. When he went into the room he discovered Harry had climbed through the first-floor window and could not be found. However, he was soon found and taken to the clinic. He never returned to his room and he withdrew from school.

The next stage in my experience and development occurred several years later when I was in theological school. During the mid-60s some gay closeted theological students were finding their way into the ministry. One of my friends during his internship was accused of being gay. That charge did not stick and he became a fellowshipped UU minister. AS it turned out he was gay. He served about a dozen years in the minister, always experiencing great difficulty. He left the ministry but has remained in fellowship.

I entered the UU ministry in 1964. This was a time of great social upheaval and change in our society and our religious movement. Women’ rights and liberation were gathering strength, upsetting male-female relationships, home and work practices. Women were beginning to find their way into congregational ministries. The Civil Rights Movement was active, especially across the south. The war in Vietnam was beginning to gain opposition across the nation.

In the late 1970s I served on a board of a gay-lesbian counseling service.  I also preached a sermon with the title, “Are homosexuals immoral, illegal and anti-religious?” I wish I could report it had wide circulation and that it had a profound affect upon the members of my congregation. In the latter case it did, but not in the way I hoped. A year or so later I resigned my ministry under pressure from those opposed to my social activism.

In 1969, Gay Liberation gained strength after the Stonewall confrontation and beatings. That led to greater engagement among Unitarian Universalists.

All these movements came to bear on Unitarian Universalists. Within the UUA there developed coalitions among these groups, working for social change. I was deeply involved as an ally in this movement.

I recall that at one General Assembly there was a late-night session, preparing for the next day’s activity on the floor of the GA. As the discussion went on and on, I became more and more fatigued and my back was hurting. Behind me a friend reached over my seat and began to massage my tightened back muscles. My initial reaction was gratitude. then I remembered the massager was gay, and I felt a deep and irrational anxiety welling up within. I was ashamed, embarrassed, chagrined. This was contrary to everything I stood for. It took me some time to regain my emotional balance. Along the way I became acutely aware that the depths of homophobia are much deeper than the conscious level.

I have tried to keep this firmly in mind in all my social action involvements. We can’t root out racism, homophobia, anti-feminism and other irrational prejudices until we become aware how these lurk undiscovered in our own souls.

Through the years I have continued to be involved in a wide range of social justice movements as an ally. I have tried to conform my own deeply hidden shadows and fears. Both are the work of a lifetime, never completed.

One more story, then I am done. In the middle 1990s I testified before a subcommittee of the Colorado House of Representatives in support of gay marriage. I related a story of one of my parishioners, a white woman married to a black man. In the 1940s, they were not allowed to get a marriage license in their home state, Indiana. They went to Michigan to get married, then soon moved to Colorado for the rest of their lives. I said to the representatives, “I know you will not believe this, but you need to know that the day is coming soon when gay and lesbian folk can get married in Colorado.”

They looked at me as though I was deluded. I think it was the only time in my life I made a correct prediction about the future.

Yes, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” when the committed have the long-range view.

Testimony before the VT Legislature’s Senate Judiciary Committee Regarding the Civil Union Law, Spring 2000

Thank you for inviting me to speak before you today.

I am the Rev. Jane Dwinell, and I serve the First Universalist Parish, a Unitarian Universalist congregation, in Derby Line, VT.  My congregation serves Unitarian Universalists from all over Orleans County as well as part of the Eastern Townships of Quebec.  I am also a member of the Board of Trustees of the NH/VT District of Unitarian Universalist Societies, as well as President-Elect of my district’s chapter of the Unitarian Universalist Minister’s Association.

I also serve as a chaplain for the Orleans and Northern Essex County Visiting Nurses and Hospice and North Country Hospital in Newport.  I live in Irasburg.

I am also a seventh generation Vermonter, on both sides of the family, my ancestors having settled the towns of Braintree and Calais.  I grew up here in Montpelier and learned about civil rights and the importance of speaking up for the oppressed – in church.

As a Unitarian Universalist, I am called to speak out against injustice and for civil rights, thus I am here today to let you know that there are people of faith who are in favor of same gender marriage and civil unions.

Our denomination has a long history of faith-based action in the civil rights arena – from the people who worked to end slavery in the early to mid-1800s, to women like Susan B. Anthony who fought tirelessly for women’s rights, to social workers who spoke up for the rights of the mentally ill in the early 1900s, to the clergy and lay people who went South in the 1960s to march for the civil rights of Americans with black skin.  My colleague, the Rev. James Reeb was murdered in Selma, Alabama when he went to march with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in 1965.

It is no different for us in the area of rights for gay and lesbian persons.

For the past 30 years our clergy have been performing services of holy union between members of the same gender.  These union ceremonies carry the same weight as marriage within our denomination and are celebrated in the same fashion as weddings of opposite gender couples.  In fact, in 1996 our General Assembly passed a resolution In Support of the Right to Marry for Same-Sex Couples.  Let me share with you the text of that resolution:

SUPPORT OF THE RIGHT TO MARRY FOR SAME-SEX COUPLES

1996 Resolution of Immediate Witness

Because Unitarian Universalists affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person; and

Because marriage is held in honor among the blessings of life; and

WHEREAS many states, the Congress, and the President of the United States are acting to void the recognition of same-sex marriages and to deny “full faith and credit” to such marriages formalized in Hawaii or any other state;

WHEREAS debate about legally recognized marriage to same-sex couples has focused on the objections of certain religious communities, while the Unitarian Universalist Association has adopted numerous resolutions over the last twenty-six years supporting equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons, including support of Ceremonies of Union between members of the same sex; and

WHEREAS the Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees and the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association have voted their support for the right to marry for same-sex couples;

THEREFORE, be it resolved that the 1996 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association adopts a position in support of legal recognition for marriage between members of the same sex;

BE IT further resolved that the 1996 General Assembly urges the Unitarian Universalist Association to make this position known through the media; and

BE IT finally resolved that the 1996 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association urges the member congregations to proclaim the worth of marriage between any two committed persons and to make this position known in their home communities.

Right after the passage of this resolution, Unitarian Universalist Association President the Rev. John Buehrens asked all same gender couples present to come forward.  Several hundred people gathered on the stage to a standing ovation by the delegates at the Assembly.  It was a powerful and moving moment.

Since the 1996 General Assembly, a similar resolution has been passed at the NH/VT District Annual Meeting, by our District Minister’s Association, and at several Unitarian Universalist churches in Vermont.

We, as a denomination, understand that the right to have long-term, committed heterosexual or homosexual relationships supported and acknowledged by the government is a civil right.  Homosexuals are born, not made.  One’s sexual orientation is as much of a birthright as one’s race.  Why would it be any other way?

Just as people once thought that the earth was flat and that our planet was the center of the universe and had to change their viewpoint once the scientific evidence was in, scientists and psychologists now agree that one is born with one’s sexual orientation.

Why would anyone choose to be homosexual? In the words of one of my gay parishioners, why would anyone choose to be called an abomination, or beaten and tied to a fence to die?  Why would anyone want to live their life in fear and secrecy, unable to tell even their closest friends, co-workers, and relatives that they have fallen in love and have formed a family?

When a couple comes to me wishing to be married – consenting adults who have fallen in love and want to make a public statement of their commitment and have it blessed — we sit down together and talk.  We talk about what the couple is looking for in a ceremony, and how they wish to honor their relationship before friends and family and their faith community.  But mostly we talk about the quality of their relationship, their struggles and their joys, what they love most about each other, what bugs them the most about each other, how they handle conflict, and money, and decision making in general, whether or not they want children and when, and what kind of a relationship they have with each other’s family of origin.

We discuss how a trusting, loving, and caring sexual relationship can deepen their level of intimacy.  But, as anyone in this room who is in, or has been in, a long term committed relationship knows, sharing sexual pleasure is the least of it.  Couples spend more time worrying about the mortgage and the bills, how to balance work and family, how to raise the kids in a responsible manner, how to find time to contribute to society and find meaning in life, how to decide who cooks and who cleans, who goes grocery shopping, and who takes out the trash.

I provide the same pre-ceremony counseling for same gender or opposite gender couples.  Their concerns are the same.  Their joys are the same.  Their lives are the same – except for one point.  Society does not recognize the same gender couple’s relationship.

When I work with dying people and their families, I meet people where they are, without judgement.  They want to explore the meaning of their lives, and make plans for the care of their property and their body after death.  These are deep conversations, and people have deep concerns.  Caring for a dying loved one is one of the greatest gifts we can give to one another.  Disposing of our loved one’s body after death and planning a memorial service are some of the most intimate things we can do for one another.  How can we, as a society, deny these rights to anyone…. And especially to someone who has tended their partner’s body and spirit at home through the final days and weeks of a terminal illness?

Marriage, as an institution, has changed over the years.  Once upon a time, it was only for the wealthy as a way to cement bonds of property and inheritance.  Once upon a time, people of different religions, different races, and different social classes were not allowed to marry.  Marriage has changed with the times.  Granting the right of civil union to same gender couples  – which is in no way marriage as it is not portable from state to state and does not bestow upon them any of the federal rights associated with marriage — would in no way degrade marriage as an institution; it would only enhance it.

Gay men and lesbians are in my congregation, they are my friends and family, they are my neighbors.  I have gained nothing but strength for my own marriage from them.  I see close at hand what they go through to create a home in a society that is against them.  I see them raise wonderful children, work hard in their communities, and participate fully in the life of their house of worship.

A loving and benevolent Divine essence walks with us.  We are called to be whole people, to look inside ourselves, and be true to who we are.  We all struggle with this from time to time, but gay men and lesbians struggle more.  They do not want to think they are deviants in society.  They do not want to listen to hate-filled language spoken by people who do not truly understand what it is like to be a gay man or lesbian in our society.

Homosexuals, like heterosexuals, want to be left alone to love their mate, to raise their children, to care for their home, to contribute to society, and to find a faith community that will nurture their deepest longings.

Our society has struggled, and continues to struggle, with many so-called moral issues – slavery, desegregation, interracial marriage, child labor, the death penalty, abortion rights, the rights of the disabled, and now, gay and lesbian rights.  Faith communities also struggle with these issues.  But we religious leaders expect our governmental leaders to seek equitable and just solutions to these issues not based solely on a particular faith’s point of view.  In Orleans County alone there are practicing Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists as well as people of various native and earth-centered traditions.  The history of freedom of religion and the separation of church and state runs deep in Vermont.

Because we know that Americans and Vermonters are not of one faith, we ask you, our elected officials, to look deep into your hearts and do what is just and fair.  There are times when it is necessary for you to look beyond the popular vote – because other legislators before you had the courage to do that, we no longer have segregation separating the races, and women have the right to vote and be independent citizens apart from their husbands or fathers.

All couples have the right to have their commitment honored and respected by society.  The civil union bill takes the first step toward full equality.  I ask you to do all you can to ensure the rights of same gender couples to have the full benefits, protections, and responsibilities that heterosexual married couples enjoy.